This is Destroyer‘s first covers collection. Which is odd, really, since the verbose Destroyer main man, Dan Bejar, would seem out of place trying to fit into the confines of a song any less intense (or shorter) than his epics like “Rubies” or “Kaputt.” If he’s momentarily weary of working up his own tunes, so too has the English language lost its lustre for Bejar. Enter Five Spanish Songs, a simple and accurately titled series of Spanish songs originally written by Antonio Luque, a musician from Seville, Spain, who records as the cult favorite, Mr. Chinarro. Luckily, Bejar isn’t just scratching an itch with a throwaway record of songs we already and know and love. (Unless, you know, you’re a huge Mr. Chinarro fanatic.) And it’s also worth noting that if Luque’s songs were translated into English they would be, as is often the case, translated in sentiment rather than in literal terms. That makes them an intriguing choice of cover material for Bejar in that they are, in their original tongue, somewhat abstract. It all results in Mr. Chinarro—who both looks and sounds like Bejar—seemingly like a European Destroyer doppelganger.
Even in the face of being jaded on English, Bejar’s loquacious lyrics have consistently been a core force in each Destroyer track. But to dismiss the Luque’s lyrics in comparison would be short sighted. While Bejar is making a nod to his Spanish heritage, he has also chosen to release songs that roll off the tongue to chillingly sobering affect. The album begins with with the blithely beautiful Maria Las Nieves and its burning metaphysical pondering: “Sí, la fiesta terminó / ¿o ni siquiera comenzó?” (Yes, the party has ended / or has it not even begun?). It’s neither an uncommon theme in music or a particularly profound statement but, it simply sounds more rhythmic in Spanish than in English. Add in that signature Bejar semi-deadpan drawl, with it’s caustic ambiguity, and it easily could have been included on 2006′s acclaimed Destroyer’s Rubies. El Rito doesn’t follow the minimalist pattern of “Maria De Las Nieves” or “Del Monton,” but rather incorporates claps, stomps, eggshakers and buzzy guitar reverb. Yet again, when Bejar sings the chorus, “Bailarás, saltarás / esa hoguera que aparece / en tus ojos encendidos / por ritos así” (Dance, jump / this bonfire that appears / burning in your eyes / for rites like this), it’s so much smoother in Spanish, yet works like a proper Destroyer track.
Detroyer missteps are rare, and while Five Spanish Songs won’t go down as one of his most memorable albums (even the title implies this is a somewhat tossed-off diversion), it shows that he can continue to take risks and create albums that both placate and challenge his listeners. Even non-Spanish speakers can enjoy the cadence of the vocals and the seductive guitars that can lull the toughest heart into a dreamy swoon. But since the album also serves as an introduction to Luque for anglophones, it may inspire more than a few fans to pick up a Mr. Chinarro album too.