At the end of 2011, when Destroyer’s acclaimed album Kaputt was claiming high spots on critics’ end-of-the-year best-of polls, many couldn’t help but see it as an affirmation of frontman Dan Bejar’s long, consistent output since the band’s 1995 formation. That, and Kaputt was just a really, really good record. But whenever an album becomes somewhat “career-defining,” there’s the inevitable and understandable pushback from the artist. And so it isn’t particularly surprising that Bejar is now disillusioned by the idea of rock music and that his newest output seems to shift starkly from his previous work. Most conspicuously, his new EP is entirely in Spanish (a language he’s “half-fluent” in). Furthermore, the EP is merely Bejar’s own versions of five Antonio Luque songs, frontman from the Sevilla-based band Sr. Chinarro. This would be a fairly big stunt for any artist, but for Bejar such choices are especially strange (and, by extension, calculated). Bejar’s vocals excel due to both the poetry of his lyrics and the idiosyncratic delivery of such lyrics, able to seamlessly shift tempos. Now that some of Bejar’s greatest strengths are essentially stripped away, he’s able to create a record that may not be a highlight of his discography but certainly a worthwhile endeavor for an artist seeking something pure and fun.
The first of the five songs is “Maria de Las Nieves,” a slower ballad, which draws strength from Bejar’s vocals. You would never question his Spanish fluency here, as his voice captures the emotion of the song in a way that prevents it from sounding like any sort of imitation of a Spanish ballad. The next song, “Del Monton” is more casual with some simple guitar strumming and little else to offer. At the middle of the record is “El Rito,” fit with handclaps and energetic backing vocals. It’s a shot of energy after the first two songs as its electric guitar hooks give it a distinct rock sound. Although it may be the most traditional piece on the record ‒ something Bejar may balk at ‒ it’s undeniably effective and fun. But you know what’s even more fun? “Babieca,” whose lush guitar rolls over the whole song. Although it may deceptively resemble easy listening, it’s maybe the most Kaputt-ish song on the record, with little details that reveal themselves after each subsequent listen.
Closing on the serene “Bye Bye,” Bejar adds one last color to an EP that dabbles in a few styles over its five songs. So while it may lack the detail-oriented artistry of past records, it presents a range of styles that keep it exciting and squeeze every bit of life out of an EP’s inevitably restrictive length. Five Spanish Songs is more free-wheeling, loose, and not terribly serious. This works for an against the record. While Kaputt could be appreciated for both its small melodic adornments and for its overarching sound, Five Spanish Songs really only works in the latter of those two modes. Kaputt didn’t let you miss the forest for the trees because, well, the trees were pretty much as great as the forest itself. Five Spanish Songs, as a shift from Destroyer’s whole library, functions best in the background. This makes it a bit impersonal and seemingly insignificant. That said, this EP works best in the moment as a quick, pleasant showcase of one bold artist having fun and not working too particularly hard.