Destroyer ‘ken’

Having described 'ken' as Destroyer's "most goth" record, Bejar continues to navigate music's fluidity with profound success. By keeping Bejar's refreshing approach to his work in mind, and allowing 'ken' to serve as the backdrop for nascent memories, audiences may come to invite the album into their hearts
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When tasked with evaluating Destroyer‘s twelfth studio album, ‘ken’, it behooves one to ponder upon what one’s (subjective) musical judgement rests. While Dan Bejar‘s provocative work has intoxicated listeners with grandiose arrangements and esoteric lyricism for just over two decades, one ought not overlook a seemingly insignificant element: repetition. Whether in relation to another human consciousness, a tangible place, or a musical sequence, familiarity heavily informs our preferences; given this, one may examine how repetition works both for and against Bejar on the synth-pop dream scene that is ‘ken’.

On the one hand, repeated exposure to past works may cause listeners to undervalue ‘ken’. For example, consider that audiences have had approximately six years to salivate over what may arguably be Destroyer‘s “masterpiece,” ‘Kaputt’. Over the course of that infinite expanse of space-time, individuals have certainly formed innumerable positive associations between the record and their lives; simply put, ‘Kaputt’ has served as a soundtrack to our cherished memories. In this way, these joyful experiences are partially responsible for listeners’ glowing reviews of Destroyer’s previous efforts. Now, by no means does this invalidate the sublimity of ‘Kaputt’, the vibrant tapestry of ‘Your Blues’, or grandeur of ‘Destroyer’s Rubies’, but it does suggest that critics, professional and amateur alike, are unable to approach ‘ken’ on its own terms due to these subconscious influences.

On the other hand, the lyrical repetition found throughout ‘ken’, which complements its naked musical approach, causes each track to feel alluring — even seductive — and readily approachable. During the third verse of ‘Sky’s Grey’, the initially electro-minimalist, opening piece that blossoms into a weightlessly flamboyant band effort, Bejar reaffirms his penchant for lyrical ecstasy w”Come one, come all, dear young / revolutionary capitalists The groom’s in the gutter And the bride’s just pissed herself” before repeating “I’ve been working on the new Oliver Twist” with utter bravado. On the gothic, new wave floater ‘Rome’, Bejar croons the ostensibly rudimentary phrase “You do as Romans do” over a moderately funky guitar lick before synths, strings, and horns wash over listeners as though ‘ken’ were Destroyer‘s exploration of quasi-shoe gaze tunes.

Excluding ‘Cover From the Sun’, an upbeat, guitar-driven excursion featuring the line “So what’s new, the girl thinks you are a / blond Che Guevara,” each song on ‘ken’ concludes with a repeated phrase, as though its essence were encapsulated by those few words. While ‘Sometimes in the World’ perhaps features the most bittersweet line on ‘ken’ with “I can’t pay for this. All I’ve got is money,” album-closer ‘La Règle du Jeu’, which alludes to the 1939 film of the same name, seemingly represents a veiled critique of contemporary American society. As Bejar repeats the title of the film over a dark, nearly sinister synth rock progression, one wonders whether the female subject signifies Lady Liberty; although she “is wasted and slightly blinded,” evoking the re-emergence of latent white supremacy within the States, neither she nor Justice are “so blind as to not see.” Here, one may recognize that while ‘ken’ does not replicate the grandiose big band sound of ‘Poison Season‘, its rawer palette is apt for the context in which it was conceived and released. While ‘ken’ should not be mistaken for a revolutionary album by any means, it avoids starry-eyed escapism while offering a reprieve from the World. 

Having described ‘ken’ as Destroyer‘s “most goth” record, Bejar continues to navigate music’s fluidity with profound success. By keeping Bejar‘s refreshing approach to his work in mind, and allowing ‘ken’ to serve as the backdrop for nascent memories, audiences may come to invite the album into their hearts. Indeed, one would be hard-pressed to select a single Destroyer record as representing the project’s zenith given that each subsequent release merely refines the band’s multifaceted appeal. Regardless of one’s first-take evaluations of ‘ken’, repetition will inevitably draw listeners closer to this underrated gem. 

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Destroyer will begin touring in support of ‘ken’ in November:

Nov 12 Hamburg, Germany — Kampnagel
Nov 13 Aarhus, Denmark — Voxhall
Nov 14 Oslo, Norway — John Dee
Nov 15 Stockholm, Sweden — Fasching
Nov 16 Copenhagen, Denmark — Vega
Nov 17 Berlin, Germany — Festsaal Kreuzberg
Nov 19 Dusseldorf, Germany — New Fall Festival
Nov 21 Zurich, Switzerland — Rote Fabrik
Nov 22 Montpellier, France — Le Rockstore
Nov 23 San Sebastian, Spain — Teatro Victoria Eugenia
Nov 24 Lisbon, Portugal — Mexefest
Nov 25 Madrid, Spain — Teatro Barcelo
Nov 26 Valencia, Spain — La Rambleta
Nov 27 Barcelona, Spain —Sala Bikini
Nov 29 Lille, France —L’Aeronef
Nov 30 Brighton, UK —Patterns
Dec 1 Leeds, UK — Brudenell Social Club
Dec 3 Dublin, Ireland —Button Factory
Dec 5 Glasgow, UK —CCA (270)
Dec 5 Newcastle, UK — The Cluny
Dec 7 London, UK —Scala
Dec 8 Paris, France —Petit Bain
Dec 9 Amsterdam, Netherlands —Paradiso Noord
Dec 10 Brussels, Belgium —Botanique Brussels
Jan 10 Portland, OR —Wonder Ballroom
Jan 11 San Francisco, CA —The Fillmore
Jan 12 Los Angeles, CA —The Regent Theater
Jan 13 Phoenix, AZ —The Crescent Ballroom
Jan 15 Austin, TX —The Mohawk
Jan 16 Dallas, TX — Club Dada
Jan 17 Kansas City, MO — Record Bar
Jan 18 Minneapolis, MN —First Line Music Cafe
Jan 20 Chicago, IL —Metro
Jan 21 Detroit, MI — Magic Stick
Jan 22 Toronto, ON —Phoenix Concert Theatre
Jan 23 Montreal, QC — Theatre Fairmont
Jan 24 Cambridge, MA — The Sinclair
Jan 26 Philadelphia, PA — Underground Arts
Jan 27 Brooklyn, NY —Brooklyn Steel
Jan 28 Washington D.C. — Black Cat
Jan 29 Asheville, NC — Grey Eagle
Jan 30 Carrboro, NC — Cat’s Cradle
Jan 31 Atlanta, GA — Terminal West
Feb 1 Nashville, TN —Mercy Lounge
Feb 2 St. Louis, MO — The Blueberry Hill
Feb 3 Omaha, NE —The Waiting Room
Feb 5 Denver, CO — Bluebird Theater
Feb 6 Salt Lake City, UT — Urban Lounge
Feb 7 Boise, ID — Olympic Venue
Feb 8 Seattle, WA —Neptune Theatre
Feb 9 Vancouver, BC —The Commodore Ballroom

‘ken’ is out now via Dead Oceans and Merge Records.