In 2000, New Pornographers keyboardist Blaine Thurier made a film called Low Self Esteem Girl that features a clip of Dan Bejar playing “Destroyer’s The Temple” on an acoustic guitar at a party. Bejar, only 27, looks shockingly young; the camera lingers on his face as he yelps his cryptic poetry. Then a drunk bro wanders in mockingly singing a heavy metal song, making a travesty of Bejar’s word-drunk lyrics. Ever the trooper, Bejar starts to accompany him on guitar.

This gives a good idea of where Bejar was when he released City of Daughters and Thief, his second and third albums as Destroyer. Today, his reputation is of a weary, learned boozer using glib intellectualism and bemused cynicism to mask fatigue and regret; he seems old. Here, he’s plainly a kid. His voice is higher, his lyrics are lustier, and he seems in the midst of the heedless youth at which his later music looks back sadly—or, perhaps, is just starting to sense the good times slipping away from him. Hearing the new vinyl reissues of those albums after 2011’s belated elder-statesman coronation Kaputt, it’s astounding how green he sounds.

Even as early as 1998, when City of Daughters came out, his work was already orbiting a dense vortex of erudite references and private obsessions that occasionally coalesced into something interpretable. He’s a little more obvious here than later, especially because his focus is so clearly on sex. “I Want This Cyclops” recounts two girls’ lusty road trip out of Dallas (prefiguring his Jackie O. obsession) with a hell of a pun: “a sloppy second passed between them.” “School, and the Girls Who Go There” is self-explanatory. His love songs are weirdly nationalistic; he sings of “a nation I founded for you” and “crimes against the state of our love.”

Maybe it’s for the best Bejar has mostly left romance behind as a lyrical theme, because he can often be condescending. “What, specifically, about me made you choose/to occupy the most absent stage of beauty?” he sneers on “Melanie and Jennifer and Melanie.” On “Rereading the Marble Faun,” he asks a girl “what have you read lately?” and belittles her stupidity for an unsatisfactory answer before crowing pedantically about the “exegesis,” as if she’s expected to understand. If there’s one area in which City of Daughters has dated badly, it’s in that Bejar sounds a bit like the sort of chauvinistic self-styled intellectual that haunts men’s rights forums.

City of Daughters is very much a product of the indie-rock ‘90s that produced albums like the Microphones’ The Glow Pt. 2 and Neutral Milk Hotel’s In The Aeroplane Over The Sea—albums of symphonic scope rendered with Tascams and pawn-shop instruments. The “Emax” interludes come across as grand, dramatic interstitials rendered with little more than distorted synth or guitar, similar to Phil Elverum’s “(something)” series or the squiggliest Olivia Tremor Control sound collages, and while much of the album is based on acoustic guitar with only a few embellishments, there’s an unmistakable sense of operatic grandeur to City of Daughters.

There’s no album in the Destroyer catalog like City of Daughters. The same can’t be said of 2000’s Thief, which is the more accomplished album of the two and the earliest template of the Destroyer Album. Bejar’s discography can be divided into Destroyer Albums and crossover experiments. In the latter category are works like Kaputt, the MIDI morass Your Blues, and last year’s new wave-enamored ken. In the former are Thief, 2001’s Streethawk: A Seduction, 2009’s Trouble in Dreams, and 2015’s Poison Season—tastefully arranged rock records given spikiness by Bejar’s wordy harangues. Of these four records, Thief is the least.

It’s not a bad album. Bejar’s exhilaration at finally being backed by the band he deserves is palpable, especially on “The Way of Perpetual Roads,” where he patters like a Gilbert & Sullivan comic character. It’s a far less hermetic album than City of Daughters, and the stately, piano-heavy arrangements are a great match for Bejar’s lyrics. The interludes from Thief carry over here, but they’re deeper and mistier. Bejar and ambient music are a natural pairing, as evidenced on Kaputt and its apocryphal works like Archer on the Beach. Ambient textures provide a space for Bejar to walk through with his swirling thoughts; the love affair begins here.

But Thief doesn’t have much to offer that Streethawk and the dazzlingly inscrutable Poison Season don’t. Though the arrangements are full and meaty compared to City of Daughters, they’re not terribly interesting. Keyboardist Jason Zumpano, so good on First Narrows by Destroyer drummer Scott Morgan’s ambient project Loscil, seems to play his leads on a Tinker Toy more suited for a hermit like R. Stevie Moore than a stately bard like Bejar. It’s a solid record, but not a great one, and Bejar would fully develop his sound and vision the next year on Streethawk, the best Destroyer Album (but not the best Destroyer album, if you follow me.)

That trilogy of records was reissued in 2010, making this the third time City of Daughters and Thief have been committed to vinyl. So why reissue them now? City of Daughters turns 20 this year, which makes sense, but Thief? Perhaps the intent behind these is to provide a litmus test for the casual Destroyer fan. A year after the last reissue of these records, Bejar released Kaputt, almost universally acknowledged as his best album, which edged him up a tier from cult hermit to indie rock A-lister. Do you like Destroyer for Kaputt or for Bejar’s gnarled, uncompromising vision? Listening to these reissues might be the best way to find out.

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