review: Destroyer’s great ‘Have We Met’ takes Dan Bejar into sleek, synthetic new territory
"I was like the laziest river, A vulture predisposed to eating off floors," Dan Bejar sings in the opening lines of Have We Met's opening number, "Crimson Tide," before reconsidering. "No wait, I take that back, I was more like an ocean stuck inside hospital corridors." We're instantly, clearly, within a Dan Bejar creation but this is one of the most unusual Destroyer records to date. Bejar recorded song sketches in his kitchen on to GarageBand -- just basic keyboards and voice -- and then sent the files to longtime collaborator and New Pornographers member John Collins, giving him carte blanche to add to and reshape the raw files, often radically, though, as he told Stereogum, he wanted this record to be "computer music," inspired by the "sound design" in things like "shitty David Fincher movies."
Collins used granular synthesis to get that "sound design" effect and in that way, with all the ambient layers that are on this album and focus on keyboards and drum machines, Have We Met is like a third cousin twice removed to 2011's brilliant Kaputt (one of our favorite records of the last decade). This is a much different beast, though. Where Kaputt was warm, rainswept, neon-lit and thick with saxophones and flute, Have We Met is gleaming and sleek, like brushed steel in outer space. Boldly going where Destroyer hasn't gone before, it's colder, louder, more bizarre, but still sexy.
Dan's in whispery vocal mode for pretty much the whole record, as if those kitchen recording sessions happened at 3 AM and he was trying not to wake anyone. And it sounds so good with these arrangements; he's the quiet eye of a swirling storm of sound. Take "Kinda Dark," a black pearl of a pop song that's unlike anything Destroyer have done before. At first it drifts along like Billy Idol's "Eyes Without a Face," Dan cooing lines like "You wanted it in there, every night you took the air, gasping for anything — there sits The Boston Strangler," till the song cracks open with thunderous drums, blasts of horn straight out of Close Encounters and an absolutely ripping, textured guitar solo via Nicolas Bragg. Bragg is also crucial to single "Cue Synthesizer," an '80s-style sultry funk number where his licks play call-and-response to Bejar's lyrics (which include "the sea’s blasted poem, a twinkle in the guitar player’s eye").
The other two singles off the record also reek of the '80s and are just as fantastic: "It Just Doesn't Happen," a glistening pop song that's dying for remixes; and the lush "Crimson Tide" which layers popping bass, and digitally processes guitars and elegant piano for Have We Met's most cinematic moment. Dan cites David Fincher but the films of another technical master, Michael Mann (Manhunter, Heat), feel more apart of Bejar's sonic world. Precise, but still recognizably human.
There are quiet moments too. The eerie "The Television Music Supervisor" drops Dan into the depths of the ocean (the album at its most granularly sound-design-y); album closer "foolssong" is reminiscent of 10CC's "I'm Not in Love," and the title track is a real rarity on a Destroyer record, a pure instrumental with guitar work that could've been on Brian Eno's Apollo.
As usual, Bejar's lyrics are wonderfully, inscrutably impressionistic, closer to colors than a path to a point. There are always lines that stick with you, though: "The Grand Ole Opry of Death is Breathless" ("The Raven"); "We are a room of pit ponies Drowning forever in a sea of love" ("Cue Synthesizer"); and "A fortress of solitude’s no contest when you stare at oblivion" ("University Hill") to name but three. Sometimes it's not just what he sings but how he sings it. On "The Man in Black's Blues," he sings "And nothing turns out as planned" but in a way that makes "Nothing" seem like an object of desire. Dan Bejar has always been able to turn little moments into magic, and Have We Met is especially full of them.