Something about the cover of Destroyer's Rubies has always captured my imagination. There's something strongly Dylan-esque about it, with Dan Bejar (aka Destroyer) popping up in the lower left and a mysterious woman in the background, all set against the backdrop of a Bohemian-looking apartment stuffed with books and interesting furniture. Some nice sunlight is coming in through the window and the whole thing has a very naturalist look to it even though, like Dylan's The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, it's unclear whether it was staged or not.
In any case, this Dylan-vibe continues to the music and lyrics. Rubies and its follow-up Trouble In Dreams are similar to Dylan's mid 60s folk/rock/singer/songwriter phase, meaning lots of pianos, organs, and electric guitars. Yet Where Dylan knitted surrealist/absurdist pastiches with his lyrics, Bejar, while similarly odd, has a style that weaves a self-referential tapestry of various characters, locations, and situations as well as literary, musical, and mythological references. It's no wonder there's a Wiki devoted to him. For instance, someone named 'Priest' is referred to in three different songs on Rubies, while there are many meta-nods to other Destroyer songs and albums ("your blues" shows up in two songs, which was the name of the album before Rubies).
This is all well and good, but you don't need to know any of this to enjoy the album. Moreover it doesn't so much copy Dylan as fit in the long line of singer/songwriters with keen ears for the way words can sound, how voices and lyrics can deliver meaning. Also, as evidenced by his work with the New Pornographers, Bejar has a gift for pop songwriting. Though he's a bit more subdued outside of that band, Rubie's is still bursting with incredible songwriting of the highest caliber. 'Rubies' opens the album, a nine minute epic that keeps twisting and turning, never sounding repetitive despite repeating itself a few times. 'Painter In Your Pocket' has an almost expressionistic backing of organs, (what sound like) bowed or e-bowed guitars, and tom-toms. The loose 'Sick Priest Learns To Last Forever' is rollicking fun that reminds me of both the Grateful Dead's bluesy early 70s jams like 'Easy Wind' and some of the more insouciant moments of Bob Dylan's infamous '66 "Royal Albert Hall" bootleg (which actually took place in Manchester, dontchaknow). Finally, 'A Dangerous Woman Up To A Point' is just one of those quintessential Destroyer songs, with an overly verbose title/main lyric, lots and lots of wordless/incomprehensible "la la la" and "da da da" singing, and endlessly quotable lines. My favorite being:
The sun sets at the speed of light
So I thought I also might leave this
Port of woe on tall ships made of snow invading the sun
Destroyer's Rubies can kind of sneak up on you. It's a very classicist singer/songwriter sort of album, and nothing about it initially struck me as groundbreaking or particularly gripping. But in the end, the songwriting wins you over, something evidence by the fact that Trouble In Dreams is very similar, sound and aesthetic-wise, but nowhere near as good. And now that I think about it, Rubies is one of the albums I've probably listened to more than any other from this decade. I so rarely think of it when compiling mental lists or recommendations for people to listen to, so let me get it down now: Destroyer's Rubies is front-to-back enjoyable and one of the best albums of this decade, a work I never tire of and return to over and over like a favorite book or film.