After having spent the past two months at Mildly Pleased looking back at 2019 and the decade as a whole, I think it’s finally time to start talking about the 2020s. Perhaps it’s appropriate that my first review of the decade is from an artist that put out great (if not classic) albums in both of the past two decades, and doesn’t seem to be slowing down.
A big reason why Destroyer has remained so intriguing (and a little unapproachable) over the years is undoubtedly due to frontman Dan Bejar’s need for constant reinvention. Which makes Have We Met a bit of an outlier, since it sounds a lot like his previous few albums. Yet there’s something kind of captivating about how self-assured he (and the band) sounds here, with each song being big on groove and atmosphere, while there’s still a ton of room for Bejar to spout his delightfully neurotic and weirdly melodic lyrics.
In retrospect, it’s apparent that 2011’s Kaputt (which was Sean’s No. 4 album of the decade) was a crucial turning point for Destroyer. This was the album where Bejar abandoned his typically guitar-driven sound for something much more synth-heavy and much more chill. As a fan of Destroyer’s earlier rock-leaning albums like Streethawk: A Seduction and Destroyer’s Rubies, it has taken me a while to embrace Kaputt, but I suppose it’s in that need to wrestle with his art that Bejar’s brilliance becomes apparent. With that album, Bejar embraced mood over melody, and because he was able to keep his lyrical excentricities intact, it still felt undeniably like a Destroyer record.
After the orchestral (and somewhat inscrutable) detours of 2015’s Poison Season, Destroyer landed on a decidedly synth-pop sound on 2017’s ken. Also during this period, Bejar stopped recording and touring with the project he was for a long time most famous for — The New Pornographers — which gave off the vibe that after finding some mainstream success, he was doubling down on his commitment to Destroyer. Which brings us to Have We Met, an album that feels a bit like a culmination of the groundwork laid on these past few albums, as well as the efforts Bejar has been putting into this project for 25 years.
The most obvious thing upon first listen is that this is just a great-sounding record. Destroyer is working once again with longtime collaborator and producer (as well as New Pornographer) John Collins, who along with the group’s musicians creates something that sounds both muscular and light as a feather. What I liked about ken was the way it saw Dan Bejar re-integrating copious amounts of sneakily catchy melodies into his songs. That’s still the case here, while the gorgeous atmospherics of Kaputt are also firmly intact. There’s also even a decent amount of ringing electric guitars thrown into the mix, which again makes the album feel like Destroyer is for once embracing all of the various sweet spots that it has accumulated over the years, which in its own strange way feels like another reinvention.