By Sarah Bauer
It’s only taken Dan Bejar twelve records and twenty some-odd years of playing music as Destroyer to make something his seventeen-year-old self would approve of. ken (Merge Records) is gloomy, synth-heady and short in play time, just like the stuff Bejar devoured in the late eighties, “the era when I got really crazy about music,” he says from the streets of Chicago on his call with BeatRoute.
To make ken (which takes its name from the working title of the Suede ballad “The Wild Ones”), Bejar had to get uncomfortable, working within the prison of writing songs on guitar, which is something he hadn’t attempted in over ten years.
“There’s something about the tightness of the craft [of writing on guitar] that hadn’t really been interesting to me on the previous two records [Kaputt and Poison Season], and probably is something I won’t do again for a while,” Bejar says.
From the confines of guitar chords came eleven depressive ditties taking stock of derangement, malaise and overconsumption in a too-close-for-comfort physical landscape. The lyrical aura on ken is pointed yet elusive, relatable but not quite topical. Bejar brought Destroyer drummer and Black Mountain member Joshua Wells on as producer, to a stunningly accurate effect for evoking his chosen decade. Songs like “Rome” and “Tinseltown Swimming in Blood” groove with the body-pulsing movement of an imagined dance scene out of Casino or Heat, with drenched percussion and deep, driving synth.
“It’s been really fun to lay into these songs,” Bejar says, having been on tour for ken for a couple of weeks at the time the interview was recorded. “I wasn’t really sure how the band would take to them and attack them because they’re kind of robotic in their way and icier than what we’re used to doing onstage.”
Instead, Destroyer makes it “really noisy and really loud,” punctuating the crisp and close-up lyrics on high-drama doozies like “Le Regle Du Jeu” (yes, that’s a Renoir film reference), and “Ivory Coast”.
Phoneys, corrupters and “dear young revolutionary capitalists,” (“Sky’s Grey”) saturate Bejar’s macabre landscape on ken, so the odd moment of optimism renders its listener deranged in desperation for more. “Sometimes in the world you’re very alive,” Bejar intones on “Sometimes in the World”, emphasizing, “You’re nuts and bolts and electrocutions. You’re antidotes, you’re solutions.” Even manufactured goodness is a bitter laugh on ken, which Bejar describes as “depressive” in comparison to the otherwise “melancholic” themes he’s explored as Destroyer otherwise.
Wherever it comes from, depressive or melancholic, it’s not always something Bejar recognizes in himself. “I never sit down and pick up a pen and go, ‘OK, it’s time for me to write a song now,’” says Bejar. The imagery and “shreds of a melody,” descends without warning, leaving Bejar to his devices to report it in music. To some that might seem scary, but not to Bejar.
“That’s how I get my kicks,” he says. We’ve all got to get our kicks somehow.
Destroyer plays the Commodore Ballroom (Vancouver) February 9.Commodore Ballroom, Destroyer