I canít escape the nagging suspicion that Iím
supposed to like this album more than I do.
Itís got a lot of elements that I have a noted tendency to
like. Itís jangle-pop, and I tend to like jangle-pop. The band
is fronted by Daniel Bejar, and I liked him a lot on 2000ís
New Pornographerís Mass
Romantic. The band is Canadian as far as I can tell,
and I tend to like Canada a lot. Itís all released courtesy
of the good folks at Merge Records, and Merge artists usually
have to do something specific to make me not like them.
All of these things should come together to form a near-perfect
listening experience for me, really. But for some reason I canít
embrace this record. I keep it at armís length. I observe it
at a distance. I take photos of it and try to figure out how
to crop them to make myself enjoy the composition. But nothing
seems to work. I think the problem is the art factor.
As any regular reader will have noticed (all both of you),
I donít particularly like art-rock. This, also, is somewhat
of an odd thing, believe it or not. See, I actually like art.
I go to museums and comment on perspective and such. I have
a basic understanding modern painting. I even read poetry. Sometimes
even good poetry.
And god knows I like the rock.
That much should be abundantly clear by now. But put the two
things together, and you just donít get Reeseís Peanut Butter
Cups. I mean, chocolate and peanut butter, yes! Kittens and
fluffy balls of yarn, yes! Milla Jovovich and as little clothing
as possible, yes! Art and rock? No, no, no, no, no! Art and
rock are like sex and ball gags; no matter how many times someone
suggests to you that theyíre two great tastes that taste great
together, you should just damned well know better.
Destroyer stumbles on the art-block of poetry vs. lyricism.
Bejar works a lot on his words, I think. He goes to great length
to pen great lines. He drafts and edits and scrawls in the margins
and gets fed up with it all, balls it up and tosses it in the
trashcan and starts again. Then he comes back to it later and
edits it again to make it read more naturally. None of which
is bad, per se. Hell, I love poetry. Itís just that great poets
do not great lyricists make, nor vice versa, and even if you
write great poetry and great lyrics it still requires a certain
formal execution to hear the sound properly. Itís just
that I find that I like to read the lyrics to This
Night more than I like to hear them. Iím not
sure these words sound as good as they read. Thatís okay for
collected works in leather binding, but it sort of eats into
the heart of the pop music thing.
So, thereís that, to start with. Then thereís the music. I
read an interview with Bejar on FakeJazz,
in which he stated that in order to get the correct feel, This
Night was recorded as a single take of the first session
the musicians played together. This is another one of those
art things. The point is to capture an authentic moment
or some such slush, to put on record the actuality of the
moment of the happening, or something like that. This is
all very noble, very modern, very nearly avante even. Very art.
The problem is that itís also very sloppy to listen to, very
slapdash, very thrown-together-at-the-last-minute. And kind
of trite and done-before to boot.
Yes, yes, yes, I know the lo-fi thing is still all mod and
superfly. I know itís all very hip to be off-the-cuff
and random and record four-tracks with tape hiss in your basement,
just like Smog does, just like Sebadoh and Pavement did a decade
ago, just like Springsteen did on Nebraska, just
like Dylan did on the Basement Tapes, et fucking
cetera, et fucking al. I know, I know, I know. But gawd dammit,
production MATTERS, and I donít give a rats ass how unhip
that statement makes me.
Destroyer did the record-the-first-take thing as an artistic
statement, and I understand the impetus for that, but
that doesnít change the fact that the slapdash quality of the
recording detracts from the listening experience. Art destroys
rock, yet again.
Now, with all of this said, all of it out in the open, itís
time to tell you that there are a couple of moments on the album
that I really love. (Iím only schizoid half of the time.) The
second track on the disc, Holly Going Lightly, treads
the art-rock minefield as much as any of the others, but somehow
it manages to work brilliantly in spite of it all. Maybe even
itís more brilliant for dancing like Fred Astaire through
mutually assured melodic destruction. Hell, I donít know. But
itís really good. Trembling Peacock, I Have Seen a
Light, and Goddess of Drought turn the same basic
trick to lesser degrees. But the three song segment of Hey,
Snow White, Modern Painters, and Crystal Country
is pretty difficult to get through.
Students Carve Hearts Out of Coal is, simply speaking,
unlistenable, as far as Iím concerned. (Insert the "Iím-just-one-reviewer-and-this-is-just-my-opinion"
In the end, Iím going to give This Night three
sponges, with two caveats. The first is that, if youíre into
the lo-fi and the artier side of things, you might want to give
it more of a try. In the end, itís just a few bucks spent to
help creative people survive in a terribly hostile world, so
itís going to be worth it regardless of your reaction. The second
is that I still have this nagging suspicion that Iím supposed
to like this album more, that Iím supposed to be more damned
cultured than this, and that the albumís failings occur after
the headphone-to-ear-canal transfer has happened. (That is,
that is my fault, not Destroyerís.) Still, what are you going