Today marks the release of Destroyer’s first Spanish-language outing, the Sr. Chinarro cover project, Five Spanish Songs EP (Merge Records). In it Dan Bejar chose five songs penned by Sr. Chinarro frontman, Antonio Luque, reportedly because he was so over English. While I don’t buy his reasoning at all—everything is a business transaction, bro, your music isn’t exempt—and find his proclamation of English’s death pretty self indulgent and not even remotely interesting, I can (somewhat) appreciate the product.
Five Spanish Songs doesn’t feel opportunistic, let’s make that clear off the bat. Bejar doesn’t come off as a tourist. His ability for the language is solid and works well with his register. The moments that work are the ones where he allows his voice to sway and soar a bit, allowing the songs to wash over him. I always tell my students when they’re putting together their writing portfolios to start strong, peak strong, close strong. Meaning, place your best work at these three key moments and buffer the weak with the good. Bejar would’ve been a good student because that’s exactly what he did here. He opens beautifully with “María de las Nieves,” peaks with the upbeat “El rito,” and fittingly curtain calls with “Bye Bye” (from Sr. Chinarro’s debut 1994 album). “Del montón” and “Babieca” don’t fare as well, feeling like after thoughts, missed opportunities.
I still worry that Destroyer fans will attribute these songs to Bejar and not Luque. Some would argue that this is a great way to bring attention to Sr. Chinarro and other bands of their ilk, but is it actually? Why go to the source when their indie hero does it so seemingly well? Why didn’t Bejar invite Luque to collaborate out of respect? Why is it that Anglo speakers covering Spanish speakers is so much more compelling to audiences? I have questions, not about Bejar’s intentions, but about everything else.