After hearing Archer On The Beach, I feel confident in saying that no one quite makes music like Dan Bejar. He comfortably fits into two stylistically different side projects/supergroups: the power-pop of the New Pornographers and the experimental indie rock of Swan Lake. Yet when it comes to his band, Destroyer, it's increasingly difficult to pin down where he's going. His last two albums, Destroyer's Rubies and Trouble In Dreams, perfected and began to ossify his mid-60s-Bob-Dylan-meets-70s-David-Bowie style. Then, for last year's Bay Of Pigs EP, he seemed to toss everything out the window and begin anew. The title track was a 13 minute synth-pop/groove-rock marathon, with plenty of ambience and detachment that carried over more overtly in the other song, 'Ravers', a remake of the song 'Rivers' from Trouble In Dreams.
With Archer On The Beach, Bejar has taken his music to an even more fractured and atmospheric direction. Whether this will be the predominant style on the forthcoming Kaputt album is unknown, but it has certainly raised my expectations and curiosity about it. The two songs on this EP were collaborations with ambient/electronic artists Tim Hecker and Loscil, the latter of whom is the drummer in Destroyer, and who had previously contributed some kind of remix or remake to the Destroyer's Rubies vinyl release. Anyway, Archer On The Beach is interesting because it's arguably not a Destroyer release to begin with. Bejar contributes only lyrics/vocals while the music is entirely from the other two musicians. It seems odd, then, that this was released under the Destroyer name, since other than Bejar, none of the Destroyer band members appear. Well, Loscil does, but he appears under his ambient/electronic name and not his real name as he does when drumming for Destroyer. Confused yet?
The title track of this EP plays like a morose ballad, with lightning storm sound effects, crowd noise, and echoing keyboards creating a foreboding atmosphere that never quite goes anywhere but never feels repetitive. 'Grief Point', meanwhile, is either a remake or reworking of the Loscil song 'The Making Of Grief Point', on which Bejar had appeared. I'm pretty sure it's the same vocal take, and to confuse matters further, the Merge Records website description of this EP says that 'Grief Point' was the original working title of a song called 'Bay Of Pigs.' Whether that was the same 'Bay Of Pigs' from the last EP...well, who knows? Destroyer has so often remade or retitled his songs, and his discography is chock full of meta-references, that it feels futile to figure it out.
What I do know is that Bejar must be going through some kind of artistic crisis not unlike what Sufjan Stevens seems to have gone through over the past four years. Again, according to the Merge site, 'Grief Point' was the first song Bejar made after deciding to never record again. Is this statement hyperbole? Seeing as how the title of the forthcoming album is Kaputt and the cover features the Destroyer band near a cliff (possibly the titular Grief Point?), seemingly considering whether they should jump or not, it strikes me as appropriate that this song seems to be about how he doesn't care about making music any more, and by extension, how pointless making any art is. It's also his first spoken word performance as Destroyer: “I have lost interest in music...it is horrible,” he intones, before the sound of a drink being poured jokingly(?) follows. All the while, the music is nothing more than some unobtrusive synth sounds that are just barely more accompaniment than pure silence, as well as some musique concrete stuff, such as dogs barking and the sound of Bejar shifting in his seat.
It's hard to say how true this spoken word piece is, since Bejar has made a career of writing about all sorts of characters and situations that he has no personal stake in. Is he just messing with us, or is he serious about quitting music? Either way, this EP is a fascinating listen, albeit not a wholly satisfying one. I feel like all of Bejar's releases are key pieces of his mystique, but where Bay Of Pigs was engaging and enjoyable, Archer On The Beach is too given over to ambience and atmosphere, and a questioning of his creative impulse, to feel substantial or rewarding. Had this EP been released under a different name, or with top billing given to the two other artists involved, I may have been more lenient. As it is, though, Archer will only interest the Destroyer faithful, and will only satisfy about half of those.