Album review: Destroyer – ken

Returning with their 12th album, Destroyer (the brainchild of Dan Bejar) is back with new studio album ken, named for the working title of “The Working Ones” by Suede. But will a release named for another band’s work be something original or something lost to nostalgia?

Formed in Canada in 1995, Destroyer’s first releases, all lo-fi and recorded to cassette, were branded as ‘gifted’ but almost as though Bejar has “made a concerted effort to make the recording downright unconsumable”. However, here we are 22 years later with another amazingly different sounding album, like all 11 of its predecessors.

With a name like Destroyer, you’d easily be forgiven for expecting a heavy, savage rock band thrashing out pounding riffs with double bass drum pedals for added thunder. Destroyer however, couldn’t be further from this, especially as we start off with opening track of ken, “Sky’s Grey”. The piece is minimalist at its core, with light and effervescent drum rolls and fills, a sparing use of shimmering guitar strings, and a small, root note bass line to fill out the frequencies under Dan Bejar’s spoken words. There’s even a little bit of tambourine heard amongst the melody as the song fades out.

This minimalist approach returns, albeit with a little added synth in “Tinseltown Swimming In Blood”, making for an almost Bowie-like sound on the track. However, as talented as Bejar is in turning his hand to nostalgia and legends of music, some things will always appear a cheap facsimile of the original. It feels as though he is trying too hard to emulate Bowie, whilst simultaneously striking out too hard to make it his own – making the track overall, a little narcissistic.

Not all is rooted in spoken word however, and as keen to jump genres and decades as ever, songs such as “In The Morning” show Bejar’s chameleon nature and ability to turn his hand, adding his own idiosyncratic approach to whichever influence he wishes. “In The Morning” contains all the influences of Britpop, from the synths of Pulp and Suede to the overdriven guitars and Oasis and Blur, yet remains utterly and truly in form of Destroyer. Bejar makes the sound his own and leaves his own unmistakable mark on the genre. Considering the sheer volume of genre skipping, and lack of consistency of sound across Destroyer’s discography, the main similarity than can be found, is across the vocals of the albums. Not only is Bejar’s voice relatively distinct, but his lyrics are, unlike so many others, so apart from his actual feelings, or any form of emotional closeness.

What he does evoke however, is a feeling of unease not unlike film noir does in a visual sense. The pair of songs, “Saw You At The Hospital” and “A Light Travels Down The Catwalk” are the best examples of this. With their Moog-ish synths paired with dark and ominous tones and poetic voice and lyrics, the songs jar you away from easy-listening territory and into the brooding soundscape that Destroyer has created.

One surprising, and almost disappointingly short song on the album, is “Sometimes in the World”. Sitting at just under three minutes, the grungier riff and disjointed mood of the song feels very much like Destroyer’s material from the nineties, and shows he hasn’t forgotten his roots. Tucked away at the tail end of the album are “Ivory Coast”, “Stay Lost” and “La Regle Du Jeu”. All three songs pick up the synths from earlier tracks and with each track progression, add a little more, building on the structures of the former and doing away with the guitar and more acoustic elements bit by bit. Best of the trio is “La Regle Du Jeu”, a perfect finale to the album with a pacy synth and wailing guitar solo that betrays Destroyer’s rock roots and even gives the impression of a film noir ending, moody, dramatic and overall very good.





Author: Steve, Southgate store