Art-pop band tries something new… again
Listening to Destroyer’s music is like trying to read James Joyce through a kaleidoscope. It is not in frontman Dan Bejar’s nature to write a simple song about dancing the night away. The band’s latest album, Have We Met, is another loopy journey into its leader’s maze of a brain. This time around, things that are apparently on Bejar’s mind include the Boston strangler, pointless vacations, and something he calls “The Grand Ole Opry of Death.” You may attempt to string these thoughts together and invent a higher meaning for them. What’s more likely is that the narrator has given up on talking some sense into himself, and now he just simply talks.
Destroyer once again navigates three decades’ worth of musical influences on this record. Their thumping synthesizers wouldn’t sound too out of place in a New Order cut, and yet, the psychedelic lyrics could have been imported from the ‘60s. Only Destroyer, however, could have made this record – this is to say that they lend themselves to a little musical evolution, as they often do. This is a less cohesive record than 2011’s Kaputt, but in some ways, it’s bouncier than 2017’s ken. Have We Met is sometimes mellow, sometimes near-silent, and sometimes outright groovy. The only through-line is Bejar’s idiosyncratic voice, simultaneously impersonal and intimate.
“Crimson Tide” opens with an atmospheric lull, forming the foundation for a subtle bassline. Bejar is given the floor to sing, perhaps before he’s ready for it. “I was like the laziest river,” he thinks aloud. Almost instantly, he retreats and poses an idea equally cryptic: “No wait, I take that back/ I was more like an ocean.” This is probably supposed to be funny; the listener has less of an idea what Bejar means after he tries to clarify it. Ironically, the remainder of the track is assured, even catchy. The lead piano fuels the chorus with momentum, and saturated synthesizers blare without apology. This is one of Destroyer’s more accessible tunes to date.
Also, a highlight is “Kinda Dark,” which unexpectedly bursts into a rambunctious techno-stomp around its halfway point. The sudden mood swing reflects the band’s chameleon-like vision. “Cue Synthesizer” is the obvious single of the bunch; it’s probably the loosest track on the record, benefiting from a slap-bass and a generous helping of cowbell. Bejar’s vocals match the beat unusually well for how wordy they are: “The idea of the world is no good/ the terrain is no good.”
What’s nice about these stretches of Have We Met is that they’re not afraid of risks. That’s not a big surprise coming from a band like Destroyer, but it’s nevertheless welcome. Most of the songs here are listenable while maintaining their own personality, and it keeps the overall work from getting boring.
The album’s slower (much slower) moments, particularly “The Television Music Supervisor,” don’t entertain on the same level. Bejar often intentionally staggers his voice with relation to the surrounding music, but he’s got nothing to push off from in an amorphous song like this. You’re much better off dipping your toes into his stream of consciousness than you are sinking into it.
Still, while it’s not exactly a casual listen, Have We Met has enough colorful art-pop to be worth your while. Notice that there hasn’t been much interpretation of the album’s poetry in this review; it’s best not to start boiling the ocean. Even without their lyrics, though, Destroyer’s output is novel enough to stand out in the indie crowd. They’re probably out in the left field by the time they even mention the Boston Strangler.