Destroyer: Archer on the Beach

[6 December 2010]

By Chris Conaton

If Dan Bejar’s last full-length Destroyer album (Trouble in Dreams) was an indication that he might be getting stuck in a musical rut, 2009’s stand-along 13-minute single “Bay of Pigs” showed that he was still determined to try new things under the Destroyer name. That song opened with fully electronic textures before gradually morphing into more typical organic instrumentation. All the while, Bejar’s gift for melody and his rambling lyrical style shone through. In 2010, Bejar returned to do his usual bang-up job on the latest New Pornographers album, demonstrating that he can still be counted on for off-kilter three-minute pop gems.

Now Bejar is back with another limited Destroyer release, Archer on the Beach. This two-song EP, available online and on limited edition 12” vinyl, finds him pushing even further into electronic textures. The seven-minute title track features largely ambient textures from Montreal-based producer Tim Hecker. Over the sounds of a thunderstorm, crowd noise, and yes, waves on a beach, Bejar plays simple piano chords and whisper-sings lyrics about an ice queen and a literal archer on the beach. He gets self-referential near the end, saying, “The problem with Destroyer is / The night wears a thousand stitches above her right eye.” It doesn’t make much sense, but a lot of what Bejar says in his lyrics don’t make a lot of literal sense. “Archer on the Beach” is a quiet, subtle song that is a departure for Destroyer, but is quite interesting. It doesn’t have a lot of forward momentum, save for those spare, simple piano chords, and even those sort of crawl along with the textures of the song.

Then there’s “Grief Point”. This is where Bejar goes totally off the wall. With production and music by Loscil (aka Destroyer drummer Scott Morgan), “Grief Point” is a spoken-word piece that finds Bejar at his most maudlin. Apparently this was the first piece Bejar recorded after deciding at some point in the past couple years to never record again. The piece opens with the sounds of a city street, as cars can be heard going by. Then footsteps, a key in a door, the door opening and then closing, and the ambient textures begin. Quiet electronic chords start, then fade into the background. Outside noises continue to creep in as well. Bejar rambles along, noting that the song is “Six weeks into the making of ‘Grief Point’”, which was apparently the original title of “Bay of Pigs.” Bejar discusses the idea of ambience and cynically dismisses what he does- “A bunch of words to melodies and the words sung in a handful of ways.” All the while, the electronic textures pulse quietly in the background.

Then it gets really dark. “I have lost interest in music / It is horrible.” He makes a personal observation about his place in the world; “I think the world does not like me grim / It likes me melancholic, but not miserable.” There’s what seems like idle discussion of other works in progress, and a swipe at an unnamed guitarist, here described as Blank. Bejar brings the piece home by directly referencing his previous album. “The message from the critical reception to ‘Dreams’ was quite clear / We will not be listening to you any further.” Regardless of what Bejar was going for with “Grief Point”, it’s a heavy downer, but it does contain some interesting insights. It would be a weirdly fascinating ambient experiment if the words weren’t quite so, well, grim. Clearly he was not in a happy place when he and Loscil recorded it.

The end result is that Archer on the Beach is sort of an intriguing failure. There isn’t really enough going on in the title track for it to stand as much of a solo release, and “Grief Point” is so downbeat that it’s difficult to listen to. It’s good to see Destroyer experimenting with ambience and electronic textures, though. This release sounds like Dan Bejar trying to work some things out, and in the process hopefully getting out of his own headspace so much. Neither song is all that good, but the fact Bejar is willing to put these two tracks out on their own gives a bit of hope that the upcoming Destroyer album Kaputt will bring some fresh ideas to the band’s well-established sound.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/134503-destroyer-archer-on-the-beach/