THE TURN ONS, THERMALS
Crocodile Cafe, 206-441-5611, $8
9 p.m. Sat., Nov. 16
THE ROCK 'N' ROLL underground has historically been a safe haven for weirdo geniuses to go about their business with minimal distraction or manipulation. A place where a Robyn Hitchcock, a Jonathan Richman, or a John Cale can ramble, confound, and make truly interesting music to their heart's content, while keeping the pigs at bay.
It's the perfect environment for Destroyer brain trust Dan Bejar, the erstwhile New Pornographer whose verbose compositions sound like the collaborative effort between a slump-shouldered indie rocker and a foppish glam dandy, sung in a nasally, slightly fey voice.
Like earlier efforts, Bejar's fifth Destroyer album, the sprawling This Night (Merge), is guitar-based rock, for lack of a more imaginative term. But where 2000's Thief found Bejar hurling erudite daggers at the music biz in his love-it-or-hate-it voice, and 2001's Streethawk: A Seduction was rooted in more traditional glam-pop firmament (still managing to stick it to the man in gems like "The Bad Arts"), these 15 new compositions ebb and flow in a most unpredictable manner, usually with little regard for traditional verse-chorus structure. Yet there's always a lingering phrase or vocal hook (the 'shoo-you-wanna-ba' in the title track and the falsetto 'ba-ba's in "Here Comes the Night" resonate like phonetic, childish choruses) to keep things on the good side of melodic.
"I really like the structure, melodically, of the verse-chorus, verse-chorus idea," says Bejar, pulling into a fast-food drive-through somewhere off the Jersey turnpike. "But because I generally tend to write words first, I can't always get that structure going.
"A lot of the time, it'll seem like one long bridge, or it'll just be like four verses and the song ends. I think if I wrote from chord structures first, or even if I had melodies in mind, it would probably standardize it a bit. The structures get kind of awkward, but that's all right. I embrace that awkwardness. The band seems to be able to handle it as well."
The band scene seems like a transitory thing for Bejar, a romantic notion in the grand scheme of all things rock 'n' roll that really doesn't suit him so well.
He exited the Canadian pop supergroup New Pornographers just as their lip-smackingly delicious Mass Romantic album began making waves (he's written and recorded three songs for the band's next effort, though he won't be joining them to tour, he stresses). Destroyer's seen its fair share of lineup shuffles, and even though Bejar says he's having a "great time" traveling and performing with this current incarnation (who also played on This Night), there's a good chance his rotating band could yet again have a different look for the next album.
"I'm probably going to try something different," explains Bejar. "I'm just kind of taking it record by record and not getting pinned down to any one sound or lineup. I like to keep things changing and keep others interested."
Keeping himself interested is important, too, and the written word is clearly a big part of what stokes Bejar creatively. Unfold the CD booklet of This Night and you'll see a river of abstract observations ("Karen, crawl back into your shell/ I know the record is doing well, but your boyfriend is from hell," from the quasi-flamenco weeper "Chosen Few") and an endless stream of barbed asides ("When the company goes public, you've got to learn to love what you own," says the narrator over the plodding rawk of "Snow White") that read like wayward passages from the great lost novel inside the singer's mind. Might we ever see that tome someday?
"That's something I'm interested in doing—I just have to sit down and map out a game plan, exactly what it is I might want to do with the strictly written word that I'm not really doing right now," he says. "I keep books of writing, but it would be a challenge for me to try and sculpt them into something that would make decent sense and could pack some kind of resonance on the page.
"Besides," adds Bejar, after instructing one of his bandmates to order fries with his meal, "This music thing, it'll take it out of you. It's just one big travel center, you know?"