Destroyer channels simplicity in subtly dismal "ken"

Destroyer combines raw melancholy with stripped musical arrangements in new release.

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The simple piano intro and rhythmic ticks that introduce Destroyer’s new release, ken, serve to bring in what could be a new sound for the act. Destroyer, the brainchild of musician Dan Bejar, is known for abstract, intricate lyrics packaged with unique constructions of sound.

Destroyer embodies everything to love about the indie-rock genre. Bejar’s voice sounds independent and free, neither too nasally nor too powerful. He uses this voice to exhale explosively poetic stories that often make little sense to the casual listener.

Each of Destroyer’s 12 albums could be characterized as experimental. With ken, however, the experiment seems to be a return to simpler lyrics and more whimsical melodies.

"You would have to go back to the ’90s to find this many two-and-a-half minute songs on a Destroyer record,” Bejar told Pitchfork.

The album noticeably diverges from Destroyer’s 2015 album Poison Season and the widely praised Kaputt(2011). ken is far more straightforward than listeners may be used to.

“This is the most goth record you’re going to hear from me,” Bejar said to Billboard.

However, fans will still immediately recognize it as distinctly Bejar. In “Sky’s Grey,” the first track and album single, Bejar's signature scraggly voice floats atop a simple melodic line. It fades effortlessly into "In The Morning,” a much more rock-centric, drum-heavy effort. Much of it is reminiscent of The Cure’s Disintegration (1989), which Bejar cites as an influence for the album.

The album diverges from its generally melancholy vein with “Cover From the Sun.” On first listen, I thought Spotify had messed up my queue and was playing a different artist entirely. The cheerful arrangement has a light-pop vibe and sounds out of place amid the generally gray tone of the album. Upon closer inspection, especially of the lyrics, I can see the resemblance to the Destroyer listeners have come to know.

“It’s atypical, which I think is cool,” Bejar told Pitchfork of the song. It makes sense, for there are few things more typical of Destroyer than atypical songs.

“Saw You at the Hospital” is a return to Destroyer’s signature stripped, demo-like sound. Bejar wrote the first lyrics during his three-day stay in a Swiss hospital. He envisioned places of sickness and madness and used these lyrics to personify them. The haunting, lonely quality of this song makes it my personal favorite from the album.

In “Rome,” Destroyer again channels The Cure as well as old jazz brass. They combine with a meticulous rhythm to give the song an eerie feel. The lyrics are repetitive yet mysterious. The song uses this to its advantage until the end, when all the instruments except the low saxophone croon fade out as it repeats a short melody four times.

The album picks up the pace again with “Sometimes in the World.” Its pop-esque rhythm and direct lyrics give this song an anthem-like tone. Bejar addresses the problems people face in a nonchalant way, saying things just happen sometimes. His tone insinuates that people just have to deal with these problems. Upbeat, direct and fluid on the surface, this song is a stretch from Bejar’s norm. However, its lyrical genius and general feel are quintessential Destroyer qualities.

This could actually be said of all of ken. Bejar’s distinct vocals aside, it takes a little digging to identify why this album is textbook Destroyer. It is far more subtle with its brilliance and its uncomplicated buildups. However, Bejar remains a master of engineering music that evokes certain feelings, and ken is no different.

Though the album is good, its simplistic style leaves me wanting more from Bejar, which he has shown he can provide. For an artist who has built his reputation on experimentation and complexity, ken almost seems like a step backward. It’s still worth a listen, but ken is neither life-changing like Kaputt nor musically thrilling like Destroyer’s Rubies (2006). The saving grace is that a lackluster Destroyer is still better than most other singer-songwriters at the moment.

Edited by Claire Colby |ccolby@themaneater.com

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