About halfway through “My Favorite Year,” the gentle anthem at the emotional heart of Canadian singer-songwriter Dan Bejar’s predictably strong ninth album as Destroyer, he abruptly shifts gears, briefly abandoning the song’s gradual climb toward tremulous guitar-pedaled bliss for a moment of punk. “Beware the company you reside in,” he barks eight times over a muffled yet discordant riff before the drums kick in and he steers back toward the stratosphere. In an interview given to New York Magazine, Bejar characterized this moment as “a pretty obvious part of the song to hate.” It also happens to encapsulate all of the essential excellence of the Destroyer project, typifying Bejar’s historical willingness to irritate or offend his audience to a productive end. Initially, in context, the gambit initially seems bratty and provocative, the lyric’s obtuseness amplified by the abruptness of the shift as well by the fact that it’s over so quickly. Repeat listens reveal that it’s the cornerstone of the song—the complicating facet that makes something otherwise perfect into something unique.
Although this is probably the Destroyer record with the most straightforward production approach and the one most immediately informed by classic rock tropes, and thus probably Bejar’s best chance to capitalize on his involvement in the New Pornographers to date, he keeps things off-center enough to deflect charges of mainstreaming. His voice, weird as it is, certainly helps. Actually, the consistent surprises that his vocals generate are one of the main things keeping these songs evasive and interesting. Bejar’s lyrics generally tend toward the crude and absurd, and often bring Bukowski to mind. The climax of the album’s centerpiece, the ridiculously titled “Shooting Rockets (From the Desk of Night’s Ape),” is a good example: “It’d be true what they say/Were they to say, ‘Why, yes, I dig the skirt’/It’s not that I quit/It’s not that my poems are shit/In the light of the privilege of dreams.”
Characteristic for its bawdiness, its easy vulgarity, its off-hand rhyme amid broader free verse, its somewhat baffling grammar, and the abruptness of its progress from the gutter to the stars, the lyric is emblematic of Bejar’s personal brand of awkward eloquence. Channeled through his chameleonic voice, at a cathartic peak before the song dissolves into a gauzy chug, they gain a lot of tone and weight. His is the sort of voice that explains the existence of indie rock: Amelodic and eccentric, it’s also extremely versatile and expressive. While he’s by no means a stereotypically good singer, he’s a very charismatic one, magnetic across his range from conspiratorial whisper to arch, hectoring nag to soaring sweet nothings. And as “Plaza Trinidad” ably proves, Bejar is almost as compelling when he’s yelping wordlessly as he is when he’s giving his mysterious lyrics form.
Trouble in Dreams is full of complex and sophisticated songs, so it’s probably unfair to focus on one to the exclusion of others, but “Shooting Rockets” deserves a little more attention, since it’s the best evidence of the fact that, when it comes to proggy indie rock, Bejar’s really in a league of his own right now. Eight minutes long, and sprawled across a couple of movements, it’s essentially his “November Rain”—the sort of self-consciously grandiose rockstar move that, in its own unlikely success, will be responsible for dozens of future failures by less assured, less talented, less ballsy auteurs.