Both lyrically and musically, Destroyer’s Dan Bejar has covered a lot of ground in his career. A beat poet trapped in a frumpy indie rocker’s confines, music’s premier post-modernist (Father John Misty and Arcade Fire have both become a little too gimmicky to compete for the title) has named songs after publishing houses, contemporary visual artists, Cold War fiascos, Disney movies, you name it. No two of his albums sound alike, each composed within rigorous stylistic guidelines, whether that be strictly MIDI-only instrumentation (2004’s Your Blues) or recreation of Roxy Music’s Avalon (2011’s Kaputt).
Bejar announced a new album today, and surprising no one, it’s got a highfalutin concept about something many modern artsy Americans may deem “low culture.” Quoth Bejar in a press release about Ken, Destroyer’s new album:
Sometime last year, I discovered that the original name for "The Wild Ones" (one of the great English-language ballads of the last 100 years or so) was "Ken." I had an epiphany, I was physically struck by this information. In an attempt to hold on to this feeling, I decided to lift the original title of that song and use it for my own purposes. It's unclear to me what that purpose is, or what the connection is. I was not thinking about Suede when making this record. I was thinking about the last few years of the Thatcher era. Those were the years when music first really came at me like a sickness, I had it bad. Maybe "The Wild Ones" speaks to that feeling, probably why Suede made no sense in America. I think "ken" also means "to know."
We’ll have to wait until the full album’s here to fully unpack what it has to do with Margaret Thatcher, the band Suede, and the phrase “to know,” but for the time being, Bejar’s also given us Ken’s opening track to sink our teeth into.
“Sky’s Grey” begins as a jittery piano ballad until chunky quantized synth bass cuts into the mix, a stately drum fill rises from below, and airy synthetic strings fall out of the sky. Soon Bejar’s jagged guitar rips a melody through the clouds and by the end of the song, we’re in pure, anthemic power ballad territory, which is perfect when you consider how “The Wild Ones” sounds.
The actual meaning of Bejar lyrics usually doesn’t present itself until you’re a few listens in and you least expect it, so for now, we’ll just leave you with a few choice phrases from “Sky’s Grey”:
- “Give up acting? Fuck no! I’m just starting to get the good parts”
- “Bombs in the city, plays in the sticks”
- “Come one, come all, dear young revolutionary capitalists! The groom’s in the gutter and the bride just pissed herself!”
- “I’ve been working on the new Oliver Twist”
Ken is out October 20th on Merge Records. Pre-order it here.