Dan Bejar is dedicated to reinvention.
For instance, Destroyer’s latest record, Have We Met, has a bleaker, more electronic sound than its 2017 predecessor, ken. But though Bejar (the leader, lyricist, and sole consistent member of Destroyer) creates a new world with each album, he’s also left a trail of breadcrumbs through his discography indicating a series of possible futures.
From the early 2000s on, Destroyer has steadily moved away from standard rock instrumentation toward a unique mixture of electronic production and string arrangements. And Bejar has developed consistent themes over Destroyer’s last few records, much like a novelist or filmmaker. The horns that defined Kaputt, for instance,can be heard echoing on Poison Season and ken.
Here are five songs from Destroyer’s back catalog that lead us directly to the center of the dark, allusive new sound ofHave We Met.
“The Laziest River”
Let’s start our sleuthing with a mysterious and overlooked part of Bejar’s back catalog. On Have We Met, Bejar usurps our expectations by opening with a reference to Kaputt’s run of vinyl-exclusive ambient songs: “I was like the laziest river/A vulture predisposed to eating off floors/No wait, I take that back, I was more like an ocean/Stuck inside hospital corridors.” Here, he ties up loose ends in his own expanded universe like a philosopher reaching a point after a long argument or a poet successfully uniting disparate motifs in a condensed stanza. Plus, Have We Met’s title track is ambient as well—Bejar’s voice is absent from the mostly atmospheric song.
“Tinseltown Swimming in Blood”
The most noticeable shift in Destroyer’s sound was first apparent on Have We Met’s singles. From “Cue Synthesizer,” “Crimson Tide,” and “It Just Doesn’t Happen,” you might have expected this tobe Bejar’s “electronic album,” or at least his most danceable. What we got instead was a nuanced synthesis of his previous styles, hinted at earlier by this ken track. Another brick on Bejar’s determined path away from the age-old conventions of rock, “Tinseltown” got considerable radio play and, with Bejar’s deepest groove yet and a leading melody in the bassline, helps us understand Destroyer’s new direction. Though it leads us directly to the sparkling darkness of Have We Met, it retains the idiosyncratic gray skies of ken.
“Here Comes The Night”
The central song on 2002’s This Night is also a key to tracing the routes of Bejar’s meandering imagery in this era. Two of the record’s tracks take their names from classic rock songs (by Van Morrison and David Bowie, two artists with similar interests in self-reinvention) and the entire album revolves around a capital-N Night—which, like most of Bejar’s stark images, is allusive enough to represent whatever the listener wants to hear in it. Fast forward now to Poison Season’s lovelorn single “Dream Lover,” where Bejar, as he did with “The Laziest River,” picks up an old idea and finishes it with candor: “Ah shit, here comes the sun,” he sings as he sees Night falling away. But maybe Night was the most comfortable place, as “Kinda Dark” and “The Raven” from Have We Met rustle these darker moods back into the fray while finally following through on the lyric’s sarcasm.
“Song for America”
Kaputt (from 2011) is a masterwork, the source of ideas expanded on in later albums like Poison Season and now Have We Met. With funk-inspired guitar and a horn section that toed genre lines, Kaputt was the first complete departure for Destroyer. But the preceding album, 2008’s Trouble In Dreams, began the lurch towards a dreamier soundscape (and also continues that poetic battle between “light” and “dark”). Bejar realized that this particular batch of songs would sound better with a studio focus rather than a performance-based one. Then it was just up to his collaborators to fill in the spaces and round out some ideas, while creating wholly new sounds he wasn’t expecting. As groovy as it is unsettling, “Song for America” distills the purest musical elements of this long transition.
“The Bad Arts”
Destroyer songs often influence other Destroyer songs, but Bejar sometimes reaches directly towards an outside influence and pulls that ina s well. On this track from Streethawk: A Seduction, Destroyer uses a lyric from Joy Division’s “Disorder” as an incantatory outro: “You’ve got the spirit, don’t lose the feeling,” multiple voices sing. Have We Met doesn’t exactly sound like Joy Division, but it does explore darker, more painfully human places, in the spirit of that classic new-wave band.
With: Eleanor Friedberger
Where: Turf Club
When: 8 p.m. Sat. Feb. 29
Tickets: Sold out; more info here