By Jason Herring, October 31 2017 —
Dan Bejar’s music has never sounded at ease. Whether through instrumentation or subject matter, every one of his songs carries an anxious undercurrent. Even during his best work from the 2011 smooth jazz/indie rock hybrid Kaputt, Bejar struggles through dense, cryptic lyrics atop the most lush, dreamy instrumentals this side of the Cocteau Twins.
It’s no surprise that ken, the 12th album by Bejar under the Destroyer moniker, carries on this trend. Throughout the record, the Vancouver music scene veteran is in a permanent state of distraction as his ruminations take the form of stream of consciousness lyrics, interrupted only on a few occasions by a curse snarled through gritted teeth.
The functional purpose of this detached nature becomes clear in the album’s first track. “Sky’s Grey” begins with a bare-bones electronic beat that hardly amounts to anything more than a MIDI hi-hat playing triplets on repeat. The stark backing fades to black, before pulsating synths replace it to lead into a conclusion awash with effect pedals and melancholy.
It’s a carefully crafted feeling of catharsis, and one that Bejar’s skilled at making, though he takes a different approach to it with each album. ken borrows some tricks from ‘80s noise pop pioneers The Jesus and Mary Chain, setting Bejar low in the mix on tracks like “In the Morning” and “Stay Lost” as walls of distortion obscure songs that are four-chord pop at their core.
The best among ken’s tracks is “Tinseltown Swimming in Blood,” the only song on the album that doesn’t use distortion or stilted electronics to mask its brilliance. The track returns to Kaputt-style instrumentation while Bejar sings with both a swagger and a heartfelt wistfulness. Though his words are as abstract as always, they feel monumental.
Unfortunately, ken tends to drag as it nears its conclusion. Aside from the brooding “Rome,” there’s no obvious standout for a sizable stretch. Most songs still exhibit Bejar’s propensity for crafting a whole from disparate parts, but unlike his best work, it’s largely a distracting detriment. Still, ken is yet another album full of intrigue and veiled wisdom from one of Canada’s best songwriters.