Music Reviews

After 25 Years, Dan Bejar Remains Sharp as Ever on HAVE WE MET

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Genre: Art Pop

Favorite Tracks : “It Just Doesn’t Just Happen,” “The Raven,” “Cue Synthesizer,” “foolssong”

Even after being a fan of Destroyer for many years, I still have yet to figure out how Dan Bejar makes being cool so effortless. He either has to be trying 24/7 to look perfectly disheveled and appear as though he doesn’t give a shit about anyone else’s opinion, or his ability to look perfectly disheveled whilst not giving a shit about anyone else’s opinion is his natural disposition.

Since 2011’s KAPUTT, Bejar’s albums seemed to be thematically focused: KAPUTT immersed itself in adult contemporary pop, POISON SEASON explored deeper orchestral arrangements, and KEN branched out into early ‘80s electronic and new wave. HAVE WE MET feels like a brilliantly executed amalgamation of Bejar’s past efforts. The collaboration personnel for this album has been reduced significantly from the full band atmosphere to just Bejar and long time collaborators John Collins and Nicolas Bragg. Even after reading the composition credits and being aware that there are less live instruments on HAVE WE MET, it still manages to sound more organic than previous albums.

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The LP kicks off with lead single “Crimson Tide,” a six-minute exercise in classic Bejar-ism that finds him trying to see how many syllables he can fit into one measure while still making it still sound musical. Bejar explores the space, rushing to cram in the lyrical refrain of the song title in one verse while letting the next cycle breathe by cutting off lyrics, all over a solid, bass-driven rhythm track. The song fades smoothly into “Kind of Dark,” a late-night lounge burner. You can easily picture the version of Bejar from the cover, radiating his effortless cool while performing on a small stage in the dark corner of a dive bar. The song is hypnotic and spacious, piano and vocals intermittently weaving in and out of a mellow beat, giving way to a heavier, rawer drum pattern after the chorus.

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HAVE WE MET has numerous highs. “It Just Doesn’t Happen” is easily the best single the band has released since KAPUTT’s “Savage Night At The Opera,” with its contagious synth hook and simple, but positively thick, guitars. “Television Music Supervisor” is almost something of an intermission. Simple repetitive lyrics echo over a sparse soundscape, showcasing Bejar’s ability to sound specifically snarky in an abstract fashion (“Measured in echoes / By famous novelist brothers / Shithead No. 1 and Shithead No. 2”). “The Raven” is another album highlight, and might have made a better single than “Crimson TIde,” leading nicely into “Cue Synthesizer” (I want to believe the Bejar saw the phrase somewhere in the production notes for the phenomenal track and cooly said, “Yeah, let’s call it that”). The song is sexy, slick, groovy, and features the best guitar work on the record while simultaneously illustrating Bejar’s lyrical prowess, who even when laying down dance-inducing jams is still able to be cynical and unimpressed as ever (“Been to America / Been to Europe / It’s the same shit”).

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The album lulls with “University Hill” and the instrumental title track. The former is a very airy, minimalist carnival sounding effort, an interesting deviation, but unnecessary. It wraps up on a stronger note with “The Man In Black’s Blues” and “foolssong”; Bejar stated the album was partially inspired by ‘80s films like PRETTY IN PINK and THE MAN IN BLACK’s BLUES, and he successfully attempts to recreate the atmosphere of rolling end credits. “foolssong” in particular is a little more simple in its execution, with Bejar’s most vulnerable-sounding vocal performance during the outro refrain of “It ain’t easy being a baby like you / It ain’t easy being a baby like me.” Cutting and empathetic all at once, Bejar calls you out for a character defect while seeking to connect through the fact that you suffer from the same flaw.

HAVE WE MET feels like a well-rounded and well-executed attempt to combine sonic elements that Destroyer has collected from each of the separate pathways each of the previous albums followed over the past decade. Bejar’s delivery may be a little more reserved than it was back in the days of STREETHAWK or RUBIES, but he is still sharp as ever. It’s not perfect, but it’s damn close, and serves as a testament why Dan Bejar is still relevant 20-something years into his career.

Jake Mazon
Jake Mazon is the host of The Final Sound radio program on VPN, as well as a co-host on THE REAL ROCKER THEATER and WHAT'S YOUR RECORD? podcasts. There's a really good chance that he's already read the new article about what offensive thing Morrissey said this week, so please stop sending him the links.

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