Few bands have conquered as many different musical styles as Dan Bejar’s group Destroyer. From the folksy Destroyer’s Rubies to the upbeat, 80s-infused Kaputt to the melancholic Poison Season, each Destroyer album has a debut-like quality as the band continually explores new musical territory. But amidst the stylistic turmoil, Destroyer has never sacrificed its trademark sound, created with guitar, piano, saxophone and Bejar’s inimitable raspy vocals. This has led the band to become the model of both consistency and innovation.
LABYRINTHITIS, the band’s latest album, sees the group continue along their predictably unpredictable path. In some respects, LABYRINTHITIS is unlike the band’s previous albums in that it relies on electronic and dance textures that were already explored on each of their previous two albums. However, where LABYRINTHITIS distinguishes itself from the rest of Destroyer’s catalog (as well as the larger indie landscape) is in its subtlety and scope. Each of the album’s ten tracks is distinctive, interpreting LABYRINTHITIS’s broader hybrid rock/electronic musical theme in a unique and memorable way. As a result, LABYRINTHITIS is a deep and moving experience that exceeds the sum of its high-quality parts.
The album’s opening track, “It’s in Your Heart Now,” immediately establishes the album’s musical texture with a dense mixture of synth chords, drum machine and clean electric guitar. The song features less of Bejar’s vocals than previous Destroyer songs, but in their place are atmospheric, highly distorted guitar solos reminiscent of Brian Eno’s early music. That instrumental, borderline-ambient quality is a common theme throughout the record, but each song fits into that style in a different way.
On the album’s title track, Destroyer goes full-on Boards of Canada with a serene soundscape of washed-out electronics and vocal samples. But on other songs, the band leans away from electronica towards a more conventional rock sound. The song “All My Pretty Dresses” has an addictive percussion-driven groove and is articulated by stellar solos from guitar, piano and saxophone. With some subtle electronic effects such as harmonized vocals, “All My Pretty Dresses” has a one-of-kind sound making it not only a clear highlight of the album, but one of Destroyer’s best tracks overall.
On top of its amazing instrumentals, LABYRINTHITIS also sees Bejar’s lyricism in peak form as he explores the role his vocals play in the album’s sprawling texture. “June” features a lengthy spoken-word outro that extensively uses symbolism and metaphors that transform the vocals from words with concrete meaning to a sonic textural element that grows in intensity as the song does. On “The States,” Bejar tells the story of the beginning of Destroyer and moving to the United States in order to pursue music. He does a great job of playing up the drama to match the song’s intensity, repeating the word “hide” until the song surprisingly breaks down into an ambient drone. Following this, “The Last Song” brings the album to a close with comically dark lyrics but a very pleasant, stripped-down sound. It almost feels like a tacked-on bonus track, but the abrupt yet brief stylistic shift is a great way to end such a diverse album.
While Destroyer may have spurned many of their listeners at some point in their history by immediately pivoting away from the styles that made Destroyer’s Rubies and Kaputt so successful, the band is nevertheless still just as committed to exploring new frontiers as they were then. After first venturing deep into electronic sounds on 2017’s Ken, it feels like Destroyer is finally unlocking their full potential in that genre by incorporating and embracing their rock roots. LABYRINTHITIS would be a statement record for any band, and that’s especially true for Destroyer; this album feels less like the product of the past two years but rather of the past two decades. Even among Destroyer’s eclectic discography, LABYRINTHITIS stands out in a great way. For all the uncertainty that comes with making any big change, Destroyer demonstrates that in time, those changes will be worth it.
Daily Arts Writer Jack Moeser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.