Destroyer – ‘Have We Met’ review: irony laced retro-futurism from a master of his craft

Dan Bejar's latest electro album offers a sharp, dark look at the world today – and he put himself in the firing line

Each album from Destroyer – Dan Bejar’s idiosyncratic, often impenetrable, long-running art-rock outfit – tends to be pretty distinct from the last. They are their own sort of self-contained experiment coming with a defined stylistic stamp, from early lofi recordings and the glam-rock of 2006’s ‘Destroyer’s Rubies’ through to that majestic easy listening masterpiece, 2011’s mainstream breakthrough ‘Kaputt’.

On ‘Have We Met’, his 12th full-length, the Vancouver singer-songwriter allows his creativity to wander down some expectedly unexpected paths. Bejar and his producer-bandmate John Collins draw upon touchstones as wide-ranging as horror movie scores, synthetic sounds and the brooding electronica of Leonard Cohen’s ‘I’m Your Man’. They also scoured through scraps of old lyrics and recordings, reinventing them for the record.

The result is a markedly retro-futurist sound, from the OMD-ish ‘Kinda Dark’ to ‘It Just Doesn’t Happen’, the synth line on which sounds suspiciously similar to a new wave rendition of Salt-N-Pepa’s ‘Push It’. At times, the music veers so close to kitsch that it may very well alienate some listeners from the get-go.

Bejar’s songwriting remains as deft, cryptic and mosaic as ever though. He’s called this a “dark” and “hopeless” record, and it variously evokes apocalyptic images of atomic bombs (‘Foolsong’), hospital corridors (‘Crimson Tide’) and a chance encounter with the Boston Strangler (‘Kinda Dark’). A common thread throughout is that of things not quite turning out as you envisioned: “follow a salary to the bottom of the ocean” he intones on ‘Crimson Tide’.

Bejar sounds incredibly pensive too, which shouldn’t be surprising given the circumstances in which his vocals were recorded: hunched over a laptop at his kitchen table late at night. These were originally meant as demos intended to be replaced and re-done, but Bejar ended up keeping the strikingly evocative recordings.  “I don’t think I’ve ever sounded that intimate and personal before,” he later explained. “It’s the sound of me not wanting to wake up my family.”

But it’s not all darkness. As ever with Bejar, glimpses of light – or at least dark comedy – shine through. On ‘The Raven’, he quips: “Just look at the world around you… Actually, no, don’t look.”  ‘The Man in Black’s Blues’ strikes a more subtly optimistic note: “When you’re looking for nothing / And you find / Nothing is more beautiful / Than anything you ever knew.”

Album highlight ‘Cue Synthesizer’ is a perfect cut of loungy synth-pop that sees Bejar get very meta , verbally instructing the instruments in the background (“Cue synthesizer / Cue guitar / Bring in the drums / Cue fake drums”), undercutting his own art as he laments: “Did you realise it was hollow? / Like everything that’s come before, you are gone… Been to America, been to Europe / It’s the same shit”.

Bejar has said that he wanted to save some of his ire for himself: “I was like, ‘How can I put myself into a terrible world? I can’t just say that the world sucks and be apart from that. So let’s try and include myself in what makes the world shit.’” After all, if the world’s coming to an end, you might as well have some fun with it.

Release date: January 31

Record label: Dead Oceans