Daniel Bejar is the Woody Allen of pop music. His idiosyncratic, poetic touch opens up another world, planting himself square in the middle around a revolving cast of characters (mostly women), picking up on the ripples and waves they create, and making them part of his own interior monologue.
His approach is mostly cynical and dry, his booming voice looming large, while the music, both lush and orchestrated veers from the easiest of easy listening to this swirling, intense melodrama. It’s the sound of music that you would expect to hear as you walked from one chaotic episode to the next in the movie of your life, Bejar perched on a chair in the corner of the room, or on a park bench as you walk past, acoustic guitar in hand, painting a vivid picture of your every move: “See the rain falling down from the sky to its death/smashed on the street in despair/over there I swear!”
Trouble In Dreams is the eight release for Bejar under the Destroyer tag, a name of which he’s been trading as since 1995, initially just him recording in his home studio, releasing the lo-fi We’ll Build the a Bridge and continuing to make music throughout the ’90s, picking up a cult following through the Vancouver music scene, culminating in the highly celebrated Destroyer’s Rubies of 2006. Carl Newman of the New Pornographers knows the value of a Daniel Bejar in the world of talented songwriters and has employed him time and again, rifling through his past recordings to find that off-beat song that no-one but Bejar could write or sing. Bejar is often regarded as the hidden wildcard in the New Pornographers line-up, who gave us the beautiful “Streets of Fire” from Twin Cinema and “Myriad Harbour” from Challengers, which begs to reason that it’s only a matter of time before people start holding Destroyer in the same regard as they do the New Pornographers.
Opener “Blue Flower/Blue Flame”, lends a soft acoustic strum, Bejar brimming with witty asides contends “A woman by another name is not a woman/I’ll tell you what I mean by that/maybe not in seconds flat/maybe not today.” His quirky vocal nuances aren’t always so relaxed, as bursts of drunken melodrama (I’m yet to see a picture of Bejar without a bottle in his hand) are the rule rather than the exception, especially noticeable in the way he slurs the opening line of the rousing “Dark Leaves Form a Thread”. Throughout Trouble In Dreams a common thread exists with Bejar setting each scene between the sanctuary of the night and the wake-up call of the morning sun, “Don’t you know every night is a stand-off with the fucking horizon!” he attests in “Rivers”, and in “Shooting Rockets” he permits a little self-aware mockery, “It’s not that I quit/It’s not that my poems are shit.” If Trouble In Dreams has a singular flaw, it’s that the music tends to follow Bejar’s eccentricities too closely and begins to sound unnecessarily over-dramatised. Instead of giving Bejar room, the crescendos are piled on, the guitar solos are recycled and everything begins to sound increasingly familiar, but when it works, it works, like the little guitar flourishes in the epic “My Favourite Year” and when the song begins to fade out, Bejar counts it back in for the final coda. It’s apt that the (best and) final track “Libby’s First Sunrise” rounds out the night and day struggle, with the scene of a new morning after an evening of “Wandering and boozing and sleeping outside”, and then taking a slight Shakespearean turn, as Bejar puts down the guitar, affirming “The light holds a terrible secret/oh, the light! oh, the light!”
After the expansive thrill of Destroyer’s Rubies, and now being well accustomed to Bejar’s charms and blues, Trouble In Dreams is consistent in being Bejar, but this familiarity holds few tricks or turns. When Bejar isn’t sounding like a pompous actor on holiday, he’s out-charming and out-carousing, cursing the world, throwing weighty criticisms to the wind while his assembled band of musicians push forth this solid wall of sound, balancing himself on top of synthesized strings and a constantly squealing electric guitar. He’s demanding the rest of the world stop and listen to what he’s got to say, and when he sings “You’ve been suffering idiots all of your life, and this is what you get”, well, I have to sympathise, but what we get here is a symphonic vision coming to fruition and a pretty accomplished one at that.