There are no two ways about it. You’re either in or out with Destroyer: the solo project of Dan Bejar, which ‒ with his latest release LABYRINTHITIS ‒ is 13 albums deep.
Over the past three decades Bejar has been a pillar of the indie-rock world, with new music churning from the pressing plant every other year.
It’s always hard to gage a Destroyer record, simply because there are so many moving parts. The mental dexterity and forward-thinking production revealing something glittery and new every time.
As Bejar becomes just that little bit longer in the tooth, the former New Pornographers member still finds new avenues to radiate his cynicism. “You’re just another person that moves to LA / An explosion is worse / 100 million words / And that is maybe too many words to say,” he sings on LABYRINTHITIS’ aptly titled closing track, The Last Song. Bejar’s sneering malice at its finest.
However, Bejar seems a little more upbeat than usual on LABRYNTHITST; particularly after 2020’s Have We Met where his invective seemed as gloriously venomous as ever. An artist forever serenading with the apocalypse with dry witticism and wordplay that feels like a translation from a French film, Bejar is the kind of artist that unlocks the gates to the darkest corner of your mind.
While the template has loosely been set for a number of years now, Bejar is still manoeuvring and finding new inventive ways. One of the most distinctive deliveries in indie-rock, with his icy dispatches Bejar continues to surprise us with the number of different paths he explores with each offering. Producer, John Collins, is to be credited with this as much as Bejar himself. Conjuring up different soundscapes to accompany Bejar’s nasally drawl, on LABYRINTHITIS the trend continues, as Collins offsets bizarre off-kilter dreamscapes with minimalist instrumentation that provides maximum results.
Opening track, It’s In Your Heart Now, is a wistful entrance in the fantastical world of Destroyer, with Bejar dealing out the gold dust on arrival. Alongside Collins’ wonderful beddings of sound, it’s arguably the finest opening song Bejar’s has penned, brimming with cinematic drama and emotional dynamism.
Which leads into the blurred electro dance floor stomp of Suffer. Taking its prompts from the best parts of Ken, it’s a song bursting with melodies and choruses that will stay with you forever.
With June, Collins finds news ways to wrench in wild recording techniques to accompany Bejar’s curmudgeon tales (A snow angel’s a fucking idiot somebody! / A fucking idiot someone made in the snow”). As Bejar proclaims, indeed, it does go off like a hydrogen bomb.
Then there’s All My Pretty Dresses. Essentially road-trip Destroyer, it’s the kind of breezy cut we’ve heard before, but with instinctive less-is-more percussion and lovely multi-dimensional textures that just about makes it the best of the bunch.
The electro fizz of Tintoretto, It’s For You is like some bourgeois celebration in a parallel universe while the title track is a sparse interlude that leads us through the garden path to the backend of LABRINTHITS.
Eat the Wine, Drink the Bed and The States are tracks that Bejar has kept in his mitts since the Kaputt days. “I piss on the floor, the band sets up on the floor/ I piss on the floorboards/ The whole world’s a stage“, he laments on the former. It’s a line only Bejar could come up with and actually make it sound reasonable.
Meanwhile, the abstract funk-pop delight that is It Takes A Thief brims with the rich instrumentation which has separated Destroyer from everyone else for the past twenty-five years. In many ways it’s quintessential Destroyer.
Ultimately, LABRINTHTIS is all the finest parts of the Destroyer canon. From the frenzied mad poet rush of Destroyer’s Rubies and the stream-of-conscious sermons of Your Blues and Trouble In Dreams, to more the spaciously arranged Kaputt and Ken, it’s all here rolled into a one.
Given that Destroyer is an incumbent when it comes to end of year album lists (whether it be on this site or others), that tells you just how important he is ‒ in our mind at least ‒ to the modern day artistic landscape. Only Low may be more important at this point.
People claim that it’s sonic weirdness. Maybe it is, but over the years Bejar has normalised it and turned the bizarre into something perfectly palatable. LABRINTHTIS is yet another celebration of that.
LABRINTHTIS is out now via Merge / Bella Union. Purchase from Bandcamp.