Music Reviews

LABYRINTHITIS Reinforces Destroyer As One Of The Greats

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Genre: Art Rock, Sophisti-Pop

Favorite Tracks: “June,” “Tintoretto, It’s for You,” “Eat the Wine, Drink the Bread,” “The States”

Dan Bejar is nothing if not singular in his vision. Every iteration of the East Van punk’s project Destroyer has squirmed and dashed out of the confines set by each preceding record. Throughout the subtle shifts that occurred between THIEF and STREETHAWK: A SEDUCTION, or the more drastic departures of records like KAPUTT and HAVE WE MET, Bejar remains committed to his style of the moment. The Canadian troubadour routine and debonair, self-aware songwriting support whatever musical form his dry wit wants to lean into. It’s what anchored Destroyer’s sound, no matter the instrumentation, and it’s also what makes Bejar’s latest, LABYRINTHITIS, so simultaneously familiar and perplexing.

Many of the lyrics on LABYRINTHITIS feel directed towards Bejar himself. “Tintoretto, It’s for You” even offers a pat on the head to a young hipster Bejar’s one-time habit of throwing around the obscure Renaissance painter’s name for points. While we’re an age chasm apart, I relate tragically well to his self-awareness of his cringe—my early limitations with impressionism aside, Destroyer can’t and shouldn’t be boxed into the realm of understanding of your average 18-year-old Genius contributor. With LABYRINTHITIS, Bejar has ensured that the annotations are going to be his choice.

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Defying all that is easily digestible, the esoterica has grown even stronger. On “June,” Bejar sounds like a beat poet mid-coke comedown rattling off pessimistic spoken word prose. “But I do radiate a certain glow / it flutters and fades, a Ferris wheel on the run from the snow” glides effortlessly through his scattered verse, conjuring the trademark sardonic twirl of post-KAPUTT Destroyer records behind longtime bandmate and producer John Collins’ glitzy slap bass. The band have made it a practice to dart from sonic texture to texture, minting each new sensibility that suddenly comes into vogue. While much of the album toys with Destroyer’s sound in creative-but-cautious ways, “It Takes a Thief” is best likened to the music of a TIM & ERIC dance-off sketch; the track genuinely feels like a gag instrumental finished by the end of a Garageband YouTube tutorial series, and it fucking works. Trumpets, disco strings, and woodblocks are sensible additions to the mix in the lawless world Bejar’s musings inhabit. Destroyer hasn’t abandoned the murky, twilit quality of their records as of late. They’re just forming a kickline into the bleak absurdity rather than slouching.

If HAVE WE MET gave depersonalization and impending doom a soundtrack, LABYRINTHITIS exalts in this schizophrenia. It’s somehow as dizzying as its inner ear condition namesake suggests, all while juking the incoherence ordinarily destined for an album that’s equal parts disco, minimal synth-pop, and sampled baby coos. For as long standing of a band as Destroyer, one would expect some complacency to rear its head around studio album number 13. Smug with that notion, the group remains as mesmerizing as ever by diving even deeper into the rabbit holes of nebulous reference points, musical styles, and electronics. Once again, my pantheon of Gen X indie rock songwriters remains unbroken: Berman, Bejar, and Malkmus can finally all be muttered in the same breath. 

Chris Burleson
Chris Burleson is a writer, DJ, and IBS suffragette from Austin, Texas, joyfully ranting into the ether.

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