It’s ridiculous on the face of it: Destroyer recorded an EP of songs in Spanish because of leader Dan Bejar’s conviction that “the English language seemed spent.” That’s what he writes in the press notes, at least. Yet even if you’re holding fast to a tongue that Bejar insists is “good for business transactions, but that’s about it,” and even if you don’t speak Spanish (the only other language Bejar knows), there’s plenty to love about Five Spanish Songs.
All five are covers of tunes by Spanish indie-rockers Sr. Chinarro. Founded in the early ’90s by singer and songwriter Antonio Luque, Sr. Chinarro has released a dozen or so studio LPs since 1994, establishing a reputation for off-kilter lyrical themes of the kind that Bejar has embraced with Destroyer.
It’s a natural fit, then, as Bejar dabbles in different sounds and styles here. He unspools drowsy pop punctuated with electric guitar licks on opener “Maria de las nieves,” takes a jazzy turn with jittery guitar and twinkling piano on “Del monton” and launches into full-on power-pop with blustery guitars and double-tracked vocals on the massive “El rito.” There’s busy bongo percussion on “Babieca,” and soothing acoustic guitar and vocals drenched in reverb on “Bye Bye,” which he counts off in English (a business transaction, no doubt).
The common thread, apart from Sr. Chinarro, is Bejar’s voice, a soft and sometimes slippery instrument that is well-suited to the material. No one is likely to mistake him for a native speaker, but Five Spanish Songs is clearly more than a mere genre exercise—it’s a respectful, and very much tuneful, tip of the cap from one songwriter to another, which transcends language.