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Destroyer Turns Nightmares Into Dreams With The Moody Album, 'Have We Met'

TERRY GROSS, BYLINE: This is FRESH AIR. Canadian Dan Bejar, a long-admired figure on the indie rock scene, he's been a member of the clever pop band The New Pornographers and is the central player in the much moodier band Destroyer. In recent interviews, Bejar has said the new album, "Have We Met," is influenced by sources as various as The Twilight Zone and Edgar Allan Poe. Rock critic Ken Tucker has a review of "Have We Met."


DESTROYER: (Singing) I was like the laziest river, a vulture predisposed to eating off floors. No, wait - I take that back. I was more like an ocean stuck inside hospital corridors. My condition in general, despite what they say, improves. So I could care less on a night like this. I'm on the lookout for anything that moves. Crimson tide.

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: Dan Bejar begins the new Destroyer album with a weary moan of a vocal. He's presenting himself as a man who's trying to mask his anxiety by sounding bored, trying to hide an apprehensive unease by imitating someone who's awfully aloof. He does this, to use one of Bejar's favorite words, exquisitely. And it sets "Have We Met" on a path of distressed intensity that rarely lets up.


DESTROYER: (Singing) You wandered in there. You wanted it in there. You wanted it there. Every night you took the air, gasping for anything. There sits the Boston strangler. Calling all cars. The palace has a moss problem. It glows in the dawn, the light goes wherever you go, sewn into your hem. It's me versus them.

TUCKER: Bejar says he recorded most of the vocals on this album by singing into his computer at his Vancouver kitchen table at night, hoping not to wake up his sleeping family. The result might have struck him or a producer as being too muted or too rough. Instead, Bejar found himself highly pleased, saying that while he considers them, quote, "technically super poor," he liked that they're what he calls closest to my actual voice. And the vocals do indeed have a very intimate air.


DESTROYER: (Singing) You're looking good in spite of the light and the air and the time of the night. They play your favorite song - "She's Just Too Dark To Care," "High Water Everywhere," "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes." You throw yourself down on the playground, skid to a halt on the runway. You cast a poisonous look to the sun. You know it just doesn't happen to anyone. You know this doesn't just happen to anyone.

TUCKER: Destroyer is officially a band, one with a shifting group of members that has toured frequently behind Bejar's songwriting and lead singing. Some previous Destroyer albums have emphasized instruments such as saxophone and trumpet or placed a heavy responsibility on brawny lead guitar. But in the studio, for most of "Have We Met," Destroyer has been paired down to essentially three collaborators - Bejar, guitarist Nicolas Bragg and producer John Collins, whose electronic keyboards dominate the collection.

It lends itself to the spooky atmospherics of a song such as "The Raven," with its title cribbed from the Edgar Allen Poe poem and its mood out of one of Poe's nightmare short stories.


DESTROYER: (Singing) Just look at the world around you. Actually, no, don't look. But if you only knew how I cry foul every hour of every day. Well, I hope you've enjoyed your stay here in the city of the dying embers. The petite terror train that thought that it could. We throw the game. And oh, how it feels so good. To be drunk on the field again. To be drunk on the field again.

TUCKER: By the way, if you're having trouble understanding what Dan Bejar is getting at in many of those lyrics, join the club. I like what one of the heads of his record label recently said after working with him for 18 years - quote, "It's always clear to me that he uses a lot of words, but it's difficult to figure out what he's talking about."

Exactly. Just as Bejar isn't obsessed with the technical perfection of his sound, neither is he especially interested in writing classic pop-song lyrics that track conventionally. What he's after and what he achieves is that feeling of being caught up in a mood, of trying to rouse yourself before it swallows you whole. He turns nightmare's into dreams.

GROSS: Ken Tucker reviewed the new album by Destroyer called "Have We Met."

Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, my guest will be Adam Entous, who covers national security, intelligence and foreign policy for The New Yorker. In his latest article, he writes about Iran's response to the killing of Qassem Soleimani and why the U.S. is likely to face further retaliation. Entous also writes about what he calls the new frontier in assassination. I'll also talk with him about his profile of Hunter Biden and his articles about Ukraine and the false narrative spread by many Republicans during the Senate trial of Donald Trump. I hope you can join us.


GROSS: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our associate producer for digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. I'm Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ken Tucker reviews rock, country, hip-hop and pop music for Fresh Air. He is a cultural critic who has been the editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly, and a film critic for New York Magazine. His work has won two National Magazine Awards and two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards. He has written book reviews for The New York Times Book Review and other publications.