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Recording:
  This Night  
 
Artist:
  Destroyer  
 
Label:
  Dreamworks  
 
Release Date:
  8.October.2002  
 
Reviewed by:
  Malimus  
         
 
Rating:
   
         
 
Review:
 

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" disclaimer here.)

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 to do?

 
         
 
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