“DD Review: Destroyer – ken.”

Score: 8.5/10


In Portland, the streets are done up “European style” — with short blocks which are heavily trod upon. Prevalent auto traffic is discouraged within “European style” blocks, of course, since with a greater quantity of intersections the amount of stopping and going would augment considerably.
What it does encourage, one would think, in accordance with what is obviously the public transportation systems in both Portland as well as most of Europe, is greater interaction between people — an ideal in itself, in a sense, of basic conversation and exchange of goods (legal or semi-legal), out in the open with relatively little risk. Smaller blocks imply smaller buildings, less manufacturing and production and (theoretically) more ENJOYMENT of said goods.
Part of why I mention this is that ken is easily one of the most “European” albums I’ve ever heard made on this side of the pond (Dan Bejar’s Destroyer officially names Vancouver as its place of origin, according to Wikipedia). Undeniably, The Stone Roses’ self-titled album exerts a dominant force over the proceedings here, John Lennon’s “Watching the Wheels” [1] then lending the nuclear riff (while yielding a Stone Roses guitar sound, in turn) to “Sometimes in the World.” As far as Bejar’s overall work goes, ken, and probably Destroyer in general, is far less sexual than his stuff with The New Pornographers, now his former band. Rampant human sympathies abound all over ken: “You run for cover from the sun” in “Cover from the Sun,” “Saw You at the Hospital / Your eyes were insane” in “Saw You at the Hospital,” “You thought that it would be alright / In the morning” in “In the Morning.”
ken is a rock and roll-lover’s album, almost, like much of the remarkably droll Bejar fare from over the years, playing as more intrinsically a companion piece in all facets than any primary, canonical statement of ROCKING. That is to say, its most successful moments are when it most closely channels, if not always criminally APPROXIMATING, The Stone Roses (think the impossibly languid “Sally Cinnamon” or maybe “Made of Stone”). The vocals, in other words, are neither anthemic nor heroic and often don’t even discuss the self apparently propagating them: indeed, it is as if Bejar is some deity who can only view the world and not act upon it, similar to the phenomenon Julia Holter provides in her “Goddess Eyes” suite (“I can see you but my eyes are not allowed to cry”).
ken begins in finesse and style, an infinitely discreet drum machine giving way to clumsy, half-drunken piano chords of faux-drama, before materializing around cornerstones of Beach Boys pop/rock which as I’ve said are done European-style, non-anthemically. The places where it falters, and this gets back to how I doubt anybody on the planet can name any Destroyer BAND MATES of Bejar’s, possibly even Carl Newman himself, is that this comes off very much as a solo project — monochromatic in its beach-side sheen, deviating hardly if at all from the simple strategy of poignant melancholy. Bejar refreshingly illustrates his continued love of simple rock and roll on “Stay Lost,” a song which is way too short probably in order to fit those whole thing on a vinyl (ack), with thumping bass and cocksure whammy bar, as well as “Sometimes in the World” which coagulates into a full groove of brisk guitar tandem in its second half (though is still sorely lacking in anger, by general genre standards). Elsewhere, at its core ken is just another Destroyer album, full of tense, uneasy synth and of course, Bejar’s signature finesse, never over-indulging. It even might be his most approachable record with Destroyer yet, a victory in possible correlation with its apparent penchant for having sympathy on Europeans (“Let’s check your sales / England and Wales / It’s not looking good / For the dusk / For the dawn” in “Rome,” whatever the he** that means). I think great indie rock has always taught us that what is coolest is basically evident in what is also the most human.
[1] Although yes I realize Lennon probably resided in New York when he wrote said number.

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