Have We Met’s impeccably produced pop songs bludgeon the psyche, awaken the senses, and leave us sifting through the unknowable.
“We need to be virtually bludgeoned into detachment from our daily lives, our habits and mental laziness, which conceal from us the strangeness of the world.”– Eugène Ionseco
“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us.” – Franz Kafka
“I just wanted to be flummoxed. That’s all I ever ask from art. Just stagger me, stop me in my tracks.” – Dan Bejar
Art is not meant to hold our hands. Nor should it, I think, be required to shed light on any deeper, higher, or hidden truths. In fact, if you take the artists above at their word, consuming art at its most affecting should be a disorienting, wrenching experience — better to walk away confused, reeling, and questioning everything than walk away feeling as if you have everything figured out. What, then, would be the point in coming back for more? Is there room in the world for simple, sensuous, artistic joys? Of course. But I suppose when it really comes down to it, I’d rather be violently stripped of my certainty than gently coddled into a fixed view of things.
On Have We Met, his twelfth LP under the name Destroyer, Dan Bejar creates collages of uncertainty. He poeticizes the unease and disorientation that comes with reflecting on your nature (“I was like the laziest river, a vulture predisposed to eating off floors. No wait, I take that back, I was more like an ocean stuck inside hospital corridors”), mortality (“Did you realize it was hollow? Like everything that’s come before you are gone”), the pangs of nostalgia (“Oh to be drunk on the field again”), the end times (“I hope you’ve enjoyed your stay here in the city of the dying embers”), whether or not we’re flanked on all sides by earthly beauty or utter horror (“Just look at the world around you. Actually no! Don’t look!”), and more. Like the detached composer on “Cue Synthesizer”, the only thing Bejar is concerned with is creating the conditions for awakening our sensations. Where our thoughts take us from there are spaces entirely of our own making.
As these isolated pockets of observation pile up over Have We Met’s run time, it becomes clear that whatever these songs may “mean” is entirely irrelevant. Bejar has no interest in eureka moments or winking gestures between artist and listener. What matters instead are the isolated rings of feeling he vividly animates, where nothing even remotely resembles resolution or reconciliation. The songs and sentences on Have We Met are abstractions that, like moments in our lives, come off like a series of non-sequiturs maddeningly stitched together. The resulting moments of uncertainty land like bloody haymakers.
Nowhere is this feeling more potent than on the stunning “Television Music Supervisor.” We are introduced to the titular character in a moment of agonized regret: “I can’t believe what I’ve done” goes one line, “I can’t believe that I said what I said” goes another. Is he on his deathbed? The way the music eerily swells, and how his ruminations begin bleeding together and drifting down into the composition, suggest as much, but we don’t know. It’s a quiet moment of abject suffering that we stumble upon: zero context, zero explanation, zero chance at redemption. By framing the song in this way, Bejar leaves space for us to populate the scene for ourselves. We enter into a self-perpetuating ring of feeling — disarmed and vulnerable to whatever we may find there.
Of course, what makes all of this work is the music itself. It’s fully possible that Bejar’s lyrical approach on Have We Met could have fallen flat if the songs weren’t so damn catchy and well-produced. The highlights come early and often: the macabre disco of opener “Crimson Tide”; the chill-inducing synth-pop of “It Just Doesn’t Happen”; “Kinda Dark”’s minimalist percussion and suffocating atmospherics; “The Raven”’s strangely uplifting steadiness; “Cue Synthesizer”’s slappy, synthy bottom end and duelling guitar solos. The album’s pacing, its song order, and its lack of filler makes Have We Met a concise and thrilling listening experience from start to finish. This is shocking, considering Bejar allegedly handed off a bunch of DIY demos and hushed late-night vocal takes to his long-time collaborator/Have We Met’s producer John Collins and gave him free rein to let his imagination run wild. I don’t know to what extent this is true, but the offhand detachment and piecemeal spontaneity of this process fits the record perfectly. What we are left with are wandering, unhinged nighttime musings set to impeccably produced pop music.
Have We Met is one of Bejar’s most intriguing and catchy collections of music thus far. Yes, the lyrics are quite often bleak, abstract, and unforgiving, but the effect they produce is ultimately refreshing. It’s a record that wants no part in truthmaking. Art, after all, has no claim on truth. There are too many perspectives involved, too many blind spots, too much artifice. What art can claim, though, is its ability to give a voice (however visceral and unpredictable) to our subjective emotions and sensations. As Ionesco demands, Bejar’s music bludgeons the psyche. It provides no easy answers, worn-out platitudes, or bullshit didactic sentimentality. Its purpose seems to be to make us feel while offering no answers or preconceptions as to what we should be feeling.