Longrunning shapeshifting Canadian indie project, Destroyer, sees cult frontman & occasional New Pornographers member Dan Bejar glide through a wonderfully gloomy synth pop mire playing the ghostly apocalyptic poet on 13th album, Have We Met. This is a masterpiece in the surreal which will marvel & delight in equal measure to those under his spell.
Describing Destroyer is no mean feat. Founded in 1995, their most prominent early sound was one of rambling folk rock where acoustic guitar strokes were often accompanied by keyboard passages & the odd electric guitar solo, not a million miles away from Hunky Dory era Bowie. However the lyrics were never quite as direct & almost always felt playfully poetic whilst the vocal delivery was far closer to Lou Reed or Leonard Cohen than Bowie. For those seeking to delve into the back catalogue, Streethawk: A Seduction & Destroyer’s Rubies encapsulate the best of this sound in my opinion.
Then out of nowhere came 2011’s superb, Kaputt, which sparked a decade of Dan burrowing his own furrow through a more mellow soft rock/pop environment where lush synths enveloped a dreamy escape around the lugs of the listener. The wide eyed poet began to transform into a sophisticated crooner but in true fashion spent the next few albums trying to escape the mainstream success of Kaputt. The decade peaked with the tremendously dark & dismal, Ken, in 2017 perfectly illustrated by the verse in the opener – “Come one, come all, dear young revolutionary capitalists / The groom’s in the gutter / And the bride just pissed herself”
So onto Have We Met. Stylistically this nails a spot firmly between the brighter & accessible Kaputt & the more gothic Ken. There are booming drums, slapping bass, heavy piano & key riffs which combine on uptempo tracks none of which would be a stranger on Kaputt like It Just Doesn’t Happen to Anyone & perhaps more so on the bold Cue Synthesiser. The latter notably sounds unlike any Destroyer track before it & knowing him will sound like any to follow it. I do feel these musically elements are most effectively put together on opener, Crimson Tide, which is expertly arranged sitting behind Dan in full bohemian stream of consciousness mode as he throws away lines about being like a “vulture predisposed to eating off floors” or “chickenshit singers paying their dues”. If I’m honest, I’ve not got a Scooby what some of it is about but the poetic mystery is enthralling when the musical backdrop is this good.
If these tracks are excellent, then what is present elsewhere is top drawer. Second cut, Kinda Dark, evokes the feeling of a lonely pissed up wanderer stumbling down empty alleys as he tosses over his own thoughts. The strength of the often sinister lyricism is evident in the first verse: “You wandered in there, you wanted it in there / You wanted it in there, every night you took the air /Gasping for anything/ There sits the Boston Strangler” before the track is skelped by smacking drums & overcome by a smashing guitar solo.
The menacing undertones are startlingly clear on my favourite track later in the record, University Hill. A slow paced spacey trip where warbling keys create an eerie atmosphere behind chilling vocals. The mystery sucks you to another world where warnings are made of forces coming to “hack us up” which make way eventually to backing vocals echoing “Its called love” following a verse containing a list of scattered parts of a hacked up body. Perhaps bizarre when written here but utterly encapsulating in song.
These tracks would fit seamlessly on Ken & the same can be said for The Raven. Lyrically, this is a stroke of genius from the playful “Just Look at the World Around You / Actually no, don’t look” to begin to the wonderful “Come out, come out, wherever you are / But you don’t, the dead don’t come out / The dead twist and shout in an invisible world / The Grand Ole Opry of Death is breathless…breathless”. As a listener, you sit stunned in a void completely at the behest of the artist.
Otherwise there is the ambient noise of Television Music Supervisor which is layered with echoey vocals making you disappear down the rabbit hole of the poet’s mind as anxiety & fear emanates “I can’t believe what I’ve done / I can’t believe that I said what I said”. Twinkly synths add to the spooky feeling & this also features on closing melodic ballad Foolsong which knits together a more straightforward song with the peculiar as the whole thing collapses in fear as a wonky & uncanny noise spins out the record. The most suitable ending if there was one.
There is no doubt Destroyer is an acquired taste & Dan Bejar is somewhat of a cult figure & he wouldn’t have it any other way. For a newcomer, it may take time for Have We Met to seep into your consciousness until it really clicks but trust me you will be heavily rewarded. For the hardcore fans, this is the best yet & if you are like me, you will be lost not realising 40 mins have past & as the final note plays, you are left yearning for more. If this isn’t in my top 5 albums of 2020 as I hit year end, it will have been an absolutely unbelievable year for music…..
May 5 – London
May 7 – Leeds
July 9 – London
Top Track: University Hill
Top Lyric: “Come out, come out, wherever you are / But you don’t, the dead don’t come out / The dead twist and shout in an invisible world / The Grand Ole Opry of Death is breathless…breathless” – The Raven
Review by Scott Bingham (Follow him on Twitter at @in_the_riot)
Have We Met was released on 31st January 2020 & is available in all good record stores & on Spotify
You can catch Destroyer in the UK on the following dates as part of their world tour:
May 5 – London
May 7 – Leeds
July 9 – London