Destroyer (aka Dan Bejar) got away with one of the most fascinating conceits in modern music with his Your Blues album. On paper, I should hate it: an album recorded with synthesizers and keyboards instead of a band. However, the result was a stunning synth-orchestra with some of Destroyer's best songs and arrangements yet. Once you get past the instruments, it's a thrilling pop album. Then, when it came time to tour the album, Bejar pulled another trick out of his sleeve: his backing band wouldn't be a battery of keyboards, MIDI controllers, and sequencers, but Canada's off-kilter rock band Frog Eyes.
Clearly Bejar enjoyed this tour and collaboration, because not only did he issue this EP of studio versions of those live arrangements but also continued to work with Frog Eyes's leader Carey Mercer, most specifically in the Swan Lake project with sometime-Frog Eyes member/Sunset Rubdown and Wolf Parade member Spencer Krug.
The inevitable question becomes: are these re-imaginings superior to the original?? This is a problematic question for a few reasons. One, it implies that one has to be superior to the other. You can like both the subtle MIDI orchestra of the Your Blues album and the reptilian brain-stem distortions of Notorious Lightning. Two, the question can be taken on a case-by-case basis. I prefer the surging, guitar powered 'An Actor's Revenge' to the original, but 'The Music Lovers' fares better as a delicate sip of synthesizer wine than it does a shot of whiskey with a beer chaser. Third, and lastly, the question brings up another question: is this how Bejar wanted the songs to sound originally, but decided to re-do them in a synthesizer orchestra?? Basically, the possibility exists that he always wanted the songs to be careening-off-the-rails and Your Blues was the re-imagining rather than vice versa.
Anyway, even if you don't like any of these Frog Eyes-enhanced versions, this is ideally what I want from an EP. So many bands squander the potential of this musical format, either by releasing glorified singles or weighing them down with unnecessary remixes. Rather, I like EPs made up of all new material. Maybe the band recorded some good stuff, but it didn't function in the context of an album proper. Or maybe, as in this case, the songs twisted into strange new shapes during the tour and merited an official studio document.
At any rate, I find Notorious Lightning and Other Works a fascinating listen even if, ultimately, the Your Blues album is the true masterpiece of the two. Again, that's not to say I can't like both. There's room in my life for both the full band stomp of the Notorious 'Your Blues' (with surprisingly ornate keyboards that hint back to the original version) and the reverb drenched, synthesizer-flugelhorn led Your Blues version. It's strange for me to end a review this way, but if you don't like this EP, you should try the album. And if you simply can't get past the MIDI-ified album, then try the EP.