The album “ken” expands the ever-renewing world of Destroyer, tossing aside old whims and fantasies for the sublime wonder of new sounds. The sonic world of the band has shifted tremendously since their early days, eventually culminating in the strange netherworld of smooth jazz and indie weirdness that is “Kaputt,” the band’s fascinating record from 2011.
This album opens the show with “Sky’s Grey,” a hybrid of dance and post-punk sensibilities. Impeccably produced (with headphones on I can feel the opening rhythm flow between my ears), the song takes Destroyer’s maximalism to new heights with washes of synth and 80s mood a la New Order. Singer Dan Bejar’s voice rings out in his trademark snarl:
“Come one, come all, dear young revolutionary capitalists
The groom’s in the gutter
And the bride just pissed herself
I’ve been working on the new Oliver Twist”
Bejar repeats the “Oliver Twist” line until it passes from a domestic observation to a sort of mantra. It’s the sort of evasive and mysterious line we’ve come to expect from Destroyer, whose everyday observations about life swirl and circle in esoteric lyrics and subtle references.
“Tinseltown Swimming In Blood” instantly makes me think of the classic Blue Nile song “Tinseltown In The Rain.” Part of me wonders if there’s a reference there, considering the whole album is soaked in 80s mood. With the throbbing, constant bass and dark atmosphere, the song perfectly underscores the violent, mystic visions that spill from Bejar’s mouth:
“I couldn’t see, I was blind
Off in the corner, doing poet’s work
That’s alright for now
It was just a dream of your blue eyes”
Before the song ends in rolling toms and dripping horns, Bejar’s distinctive voice rings out with another mantra: “I was a dreamer / Watch me leave.” He repeats it over and over, signaling the escape from the machine that “Tinseltown” has become.
The sounds of “ken” are varied and unique. Two-minute song “Cover From The Sun” feels like a power-pop rock track from the 90s. “Saw You At The Hospital” teeters itself over acoustic guitar and a story of ending up in a hospital with a mind nearing total collapse. Regardless of the track, Destroyer wields their influences with the power and expressiveness that was so delicious on “Kaputt,” producing the sort of album that transcends musical eras to make its own idiosyncratic statement.
Toward the end we get the closest thing to an anthem that Destroyer’s ever produced, “Stay Lost.” The song rolls along in sing-along melody and arena rock chord changes, producing an anti-anthem to the inspirational themes that normally dominate such tracks:
“Stay lost. Never found
Out on the street, in The Book of the Dead, for a living
Stay lost. It’s an illusion
Being alone’s an illusion
Come on, agitation!
W-w-wake up, sh-sh-shake it up!
Levitate! This burden is just
These here three stones!
Stay lost! Stray!
Out on the streets, in The Book of the Dead”
As Bejar’s voice fades away on “ken,” I know I’ve listened to something special. All of the band’s influences have come together more harmoniously than ever before, producing a record that is dark and sublimely wonderful to inhabit.