Thu, Nov 28, 2013 - Page 11 News List

CD reviews

By Jon Caramanica and Ben Ratliff  /  NY Times News Service

“It was 2013. The English language seemed spent, despicable, not easily singable. It felt over for English; good for business transactions, but that’s about it. The only other language I know is Spanish, and the only Spanish songs I really know are those of Sr. Chinarro, led by Antonio Luque.”

That release is basically the same as his singing voice: lordly, saturnine, abstracted, probably dissembling, unreasonable, maybe even reluctant, but in search of something. It’s a position you might want to spend time with for a while.

Bejar’s audience may be limited, but it’s deep. You’re in or you’re out with the fatigued strumminess of the songs, his light tenor, and heavy word count. His lyrics can sound like sendups of rock picaresque — Dylan, Springsteen — delivered with passion or self-importance. Sometimes it sounds like an imitation of a radical act. And sometimes it is, but not the kind of radical act he’s imitating.

Five Spanish Songs, Destroyer’s record of Sr. Chinarro covers, forces him to deal with someone else’s reality, and he chose well. His Spanish fans will be gratified. (Destroyer’s previous album, Kaputt, was named the second-best record of the year by the Madrid daily El Pais in 2011.) His fans elsewhere might be introduced to a new band.

Sr. Chinarro, formed in 1990, is from Seville. Luque is, like Bejar, a kind of modern folk singer-songwriter working within indie rock, squirrelly and literary, with vague, bright-image lyrics sung in a tired voice. You’ll recognize a shared atmosphere. As it happens, they look somewhat alike.

Bejar’s versions of Luque’s songs — Maria de las Nieves, Del Monton, El Rito, Babieca, and Bye Bye — are a little more down at the heels than the Sr. Chinarro originals, but they’re honest covers of lovely songs, sung with care. There’s even a serious approximation, by Nicolas Bragg, at a surf rock meets Neil Young guitar solo on Babieca.

This could be a gateway record for someone curious about Destroyer, even more so for those who know Spanish: As he pays homage to a peer, Bejar eases up on his distancing effect.

— Ben Ratliff, NY Times News Service

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