DESTROYER with FROG EYES and PINK MOUNTAIN TOP at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), tonight (Thursday May 6), $10.50. 416-532-1598. Rating: NNNNN
When Dan Bejar's cellphone goes dead early in our interview, I fear the Destroyer mastermind is playing a cruel anti-journalist joke. This is the BC enigma who's turned down pretty much every press op in Canada until now, so he's got a rep for being an evasive virtuoso. But with the recent release of his new electro-baroque album, Your Blues, and a rare cross-country tour underway, you've gotta figure Bejar's label, Merge, is pushing him to do promos.
Luckily, the hang-up is only a technical glitch.
"The phone's not gonna last, lemme tell you," sighs Bejar, whose nearest and dearest are still shocked by his mobile acquisition. "We're in the middle of the Saskatchewan Badlands, and cellphones are useless when you're driving through the prairies."
Wireless hatred aside, when it comes to music Bejar's not entirely anti-technology. Your Blues is a sprawling, shimmering opus of artificial orchestration, with bombastic strings and symphonies composed entirely on old-school Roland XV3080 and Kurtzweil K2600 synths, with subtle acoustic guitar accents - all instruments borrowed, he adds, from BC multimedia artist Rodney Graham.
In typical Bejar style, the ornate arrangements are matched by stream-of-consciousness lyrical rambles dripping with metaphorical poetic flourishes. Gone are the imaginary girls' names and thinly veiled attacks on the big bad music industry, replaced here by self-reflexive musings on the nature of art and artifice (I think) and a wealth of geographical references that can feel like a hyperkinetic hallucination of a spinning globe.
The album sounds sorta like Lou Reed doing Les Miz, and since Bejar composed a number of the songs for an upcoming theatrical collaboration with Sheila Heti for Toronto's Nightwood Theatre, I wonder if he studied musical soundtracks while writing it.
He sounds aghast.
"When I was listening to records while making the album, it wasn't The Sound Of Music or something like that. The lyrics are tighter than the last record. But as far as a story inside it, I wouldn't try and impose that, although there are some ongoing themes."
Bejar seems uncomfortable talking about the play, although he grudgingly admits it might have influenced the record's surreal geography.
"Yeah, I think that's one reason the songs might work in that play, because of the weird fictional trance. Actually, that geography was maybe one thing that made me feel like we could steer into the Old World MIDI sound, the Eurotrash feel of the record, in production. I didn't want to make a record that sounded American at all."
A founding member of indie pop supergroup the New Pornographers, Bejar jumped ship as soon as the band started garnering super-powered buzz, although he's still credited as a "secret member" on their albums.
"My aesthetic has drifted from the Pornographers' - from (Pornos braintrust) Carl Newman's - in the last few years. I still like the music he makes, but it's not really a style that I'm, uh, into. It was always really his baby even when I was in the band full-time."
Some might draw a parallel between Bejar's secret membership and the mysterious figure of Pye Dubois.
You know, the invisible poet/psychologist who penned huge hits for the Kim Mitchell-fronted 70s Canrock outfit Max Webster.
Bejar, who's rumoured to be an authority on 70s rock trivia, seems embarrassed by his ignorance.
"Aw, shit! I didn't know about him. I thought Max Webster was Kim Mitchell."