by Chris Hatch
Stepping into the world of Destroyer for the first time in 2020 puts you in the oxymoronic position of being both late, early, and bang on time to the party. Have We Met is the latest in Destroyer’s expansive back catalogue, and when you take in to account the Canadian’s recordings with The New Pornographers and his various other outlets, Dan Bejar’s body of work is somewhat overwhelming. As far as cult indie figures go, he couldn’t be more archetypal – in some circles a songwriting god, but in the mainstream he remains largely unknown. The good news is that Have We Met is one of Bejar’s most relevant, immediate works, and couldn’t be more apt for modern times.
At times queasy, and at others sweet – Have We Met’s cloying, decaying universe is made up of songs that pair a warm, utopian backing with ambiguous, dystopian lyrics. It’s a record that seems to grow and morph with each listen – themes you could swear were there on a first listen seem to disappear, while new ideas, both lyrically and musically, seem to burst through the cracked, infertile earth and blossom out of nowhere.
Musically, the album takes the sweeping, grandiose synth-stylings of Future Islands, combines them with the upfront, steadfast, art-rock of TV On The Radio, and then passes them through a bleak, Black Mirror filter. Stark, industrial soundscapes make bedfellows with chunky, meaty basslines and colourful, shimmering trance flourishes. It’s both upbeat and optimistic, and cold and sinister all at once – the theme that props up Have We Met. There’s an idea that we are on the brink of a societal and global collapse, and Bejar hasn’t quite yet made his mind up about whether there is any hope left.
Across the record’s ten tracks, Bejar tends to take on the role of narrator; he’s mildly cynical and at times nihilistic, but largely impartial and matter-of-fact – his idiosyncratic vocal style making him sound more like an academic than a rockstar. There are times though when Bejar adopts a new guise, a different personality, each one of them ghosting in from a future that is close enough to be within touching distance yet not far enough away to escape from. On The Raven he’s a modern day version of the Grim Repear – a glitchy avatar that sympathetically tells us of the dead twisting and shouting in ‘an invisible world’, while Cue Synthesizer’s self-referencing lyrics are delivered with a sliver of detached fake-warmth like some algorithmic AI, programmed to write the next indie hit, but secretly plotting our demise. In between cold, computer-command-prompt style orchestrations, Bejar asserts that ‘the idea of the world is no good’, in one of the album’s most direct and straightforward moments.
Bejar fills the record with lyrics that have been abstracted and chopped up. They seem to be strung together loosely, and can mean one thing in isolation, but then have their meaning changed by the lyrics that surround them. Contradictory and revelatory all at once – Bejar at times feels like a malfunctioning prophet; a harbinger of doom who doesn’t yet know how all this turns out. He wants to warn us, wants to chastise us, and wants to document this self-inflicted despair, all in a broken stream of consciousness that twists and turns from sentence to sentence.
By the album’s end, however, some of Bejar’s apocalyptic dread seems to have mellowed. On The Man in Black’s Blues, he seems closer to indifference, and maybe even acceptance – the idea of finding nothingness has never sounded more beautiful, and when album closer, foolssong, finally rolls around there’s almost a hint that Bejar has fallen in love with the world again, or at least he’s found a chink of light in the darkness.
Have We Met is an enthrallingly confusing and confounding testament to the end of the age of information. It’s 45-ish minutes feel like a smouldering mass of overheating computer processors, of acrid burning plastic, of sweetly stinking petrol. The technological leaps of the past forty or so years have made our world a smaller place, but it feels like we’ve never been lazier, or more insecure, or more isolated. In How We Met, Bejar has created something that holds a mirror up to society and unthinkingly reflects back what it sees – cynical, self-destructive, disjointed, and scared… but with just a little bit of hope.
Secret Meeting score: 89