Dan Bejar makes impending armageddon sound absolutely dreamy.
Destroyer’s Dan Bejar has a lot in common with Daniel Romano besides just a first name. Like Romano, Bejar demonstrates a deep-seated respect for his musical influences, but isn’t beholden to them. Both are anti-traditionalists, refusing to let any musical aesthetic fence them in. With the release of Destroyer’s latest album, ken, Canada’s finest musical chameleons have both released exceptional albums filled with world-weary, evocative lyricism and genre-obliterating music in 2017.
Previous to ken, the pinnacle of Destroyer’s output was 2011’s Kaputt, the much-heralded musical turning-point that found Bejar repeatedly intoning the names of British music magazines on its seminal title track (“Sounds, Smash Hits, Melody Maker, NME / All sound like a dream to me”). It’s now 2017 and Bejar is still happily living an 80s-British-music-induced reverie. The soft-rock stylings of Kaputt and elegant string orchestrations of 2015’s Poison Season have given way to the formative sounds of Bejar’s youth: the Thatcher-era UK hit parade.
ken plays with synths in much the same way New Order did: like an accident on purpose. There’s a skittering EDM beat that flares up throughout opener “Sky’s Grey”, a misfiring sequencer that just happens to go off with perfect timing. “Tinseltown Swimming in Blood” dances on a disco-inflected bass line that calls to mind a hybrid cross between Low-Life’s “This Time of Night” and “Love Vigilantes”. There’s an ominous, Brotherhood-like post-punk cloud of dread hanging over the record. Yet, even with such direct connections to a band Bejar clearly admires, ken–perhaps more than any other album Bejar’s released before–is quintessentially a Destroyer album, in that it doesn’t sound like anyone but Destroyer.
Bejar’s lyrics have always defined Destroyer, mainly because his musings make it next to impossible to decipher what he’s on about. Much like the words of New Order’s songs, it’s not about what is said as much as how it’s said. It’s vaguely Shakespearean in a sense: words, words, words written on paper that, once said aloud in rapid fire succession and in idiosyncratic cadence, resonate deeply. Fear, dread, woe, and frustration all come flooding to the surface on the elegiac “Rome” (“You keep hearing it said – ‘You’re a doornail, you’re dead / You’re dead. You’re dead. You’re dead.’ / You’re dead”), which is punctuated by the same muted sax that once sounded so glorious, and now rings out like the saddest lament.
While they differ in stylistic approach, both Bejar and Romano attack their art with a similar tenacity. With ken, elder statesman Bejar, forever intransigent and unrelenting in his vision, offers a nostalgic-sounding album rife with contemporary dread. He’s observational and detached, but not indifferent. Destroyer has always offered escape, a temporary artifice to take the sting out of the anxiety and alarm bells the world offers up. The state of the world’s nations are in danger from global crises advancing on multiple fronts, but ken makes impending armageddon sound absolutely dreamy.