Dan Bejar’s Destroyer project shows no signs of fizzling out, despite now being well into its second decade, with ken becoming the prolific Canadian’s 12th studio album to date. Named after the original title given to Suede’s The Wild Ones from 1994 for no specific reason other than Bejar finding the fact intriguing, the collection’s 11 tracks largely resonate with the 1980s rather than the 1990s, a time when Bejar was becoming intoxicated with music. “These were the years when music first really came at me like a sickness,” he claims, as a fascination with Margaret Thatcher’s Britain also piqued interest.
Destroyer’s last album, the New York influenced Poison Season from 2015, was more of a concept built around Times Square than a collection of individual, standalone numbers and the LP was occasionally a challenging listen, with quirkily jazzy structures and deliveries taking the album to a unique place. Ken, on the other hand, feels more contrived and less random.
Yet opener Sky’s Grey proves to be somewhat misleading. Sounding more like the previous album with a jazzy styled vocal display, the track acts as a kind of bridge between old and new. A genteel introduction gives way to a pulsing synth and reverb-twanging guitar before some further electric guitar buzzes in. Despite some rather misplaced and unnecessary obscenities, it’s a decent start. There’s another glimpse at Bejar’s jazz likings during the piano noodlings of Saw You At The Hospital, where soothing acoustic strumming reacts with a curiously toned synth melody as Bejar spins graphic details with lines such as “Your eyes were clearly insane and your robes undone”.
There’s more intrigue with the sparse, Kraftwerk-like synths of A Light Travels Down The Catwalk, the lyrics of which portray the vacant, expressionless stare adopted by catwalk models. Rome again echoes Poison Season, albeit with some notably dramatic keyboard chords of the sort rarely heard since a-ha’s The Sun Always Shines On TV from 1985.
But the real glory of ken lies in its more obvious ‘80s references. With lines blurring between guitar and bass in a New Order/The Cure kind of way, In The Morning bears vibrant similarities to both – it’s almost as if Peter Hook has joined the band, as well as a slowed down synth melody being borrowed from The Cure’s Just Like Heaven. These trends continue into Tinseltown Swimming In Blood, another first class cut featuring a trumpeted melody and pummelling, echo-laden drums.
The power charged synths of Stay Lost are another highlight from the same ilk, while a prominent tambourine and undulating guitar riff drive the impressive Cover From The Sun. More ‘80s references pop up during Sometimes In The World, where the vocal delivery eerily recalls Lloyd Cole, particular from his Commotions hit Brand New Friend, while the brilliant guitar solo on La Regle Du Jeu is an unexpected delight during a homage to a 1939 classic Jean Renoir movie translated for the English speaking audience as The Rules Of The Game.
Canada has become a major force in modern music that’s simply bursting with talent these days, and Destroyer’s drummer Josh Wells – also of another excellent Canadian band, Black Mountain – shows his burgeoning talents extend beyond the drum kit as he picks up production duties for the album recorded in its entirety at The Balloon Factory in Vancouver. Comfortably surpassing Poison Season, ken is hugely listenable throughout, and with so many ‘80s touchpoints in evidence, it often sounds like it could actually have been made at that time. Which, despite the uneducated blindly condemning the decade due to its considerable amount of cheese and big hair, is no bad thing.