Destroyer ‘Labyrinthitis’ Review

Sometimes, these songs are poppy in shocking ways even after a set of albums that found Destroyer playing with pop forms more and more. In the fadeout of “Suffer,” Bejar lets loose with the title in a way that almost conjures Bono’s cadences. And if Destroyer fans were taken aback by the slinky beats of Have We Met‘s “Cue Synthesizer,” they might be really bowled over by the fleet-footed groove and easygoing melodies of “It Takes A Thief.” But elsewhere, things get bugged out again. Bejar has talked about how a lot of the songs are foreign to him, whether because of Collins’ lead or what the band members contributed — he amusingly references the roiling and death-obsessed “Tintoretto” as a “synth mall-metal director” in the Pitchfork interview, and he’s not exactly wrong. While that might be the most aggressive track, Labyrinthitis still coasts into abstractions along the way, whether in its instrumental title track or the spectral dance music of “The States,” an alluring drone that leads Bejar into a rare autobiographical moment recalling his younger self bumming around America in the early days of his career .

Mostly, though, the album seems to be coming from a sinister place. In its way, Have We Met is more of a stereotypical “pandemic album” given its claustrophobia and murmured anxieties. In interviews, Bejar keeps talking about a sort of cartoon villainy present on Labyrinthitis, and it’s true that the album’s darkness responds with a kind of bombast and occasional hilarity on the other side of the last two years. There are characteristic but amplified sneers, like “A snow angel’s a fucking idiot somebody made” in “June,” or the fact that the infectious “Suffer” is, really and truly, just about suffering and death.

Yet as much as Labyrinthitis lives up to its name, zigging and zagging like a maze, there’s something almost hopeful lingering within the core of it. Bejar has said he finds the album disconcerting, that he finds no comfort from it. But relative to the arcane angles of Destroyer’s career, it’s hard not to hear “It’s In Your Heart Now” or “The States” and sink into a reflective mood rather than a harried one. as much as Labyrinthitis is designed to be “incoherent,” there is really an arc — atmospheric reflections at its beginning and end, veering off the road here and there in the middle, but ultimately coming back home. After all, one of its biggest left turns is actually a reclamation of old-school Destroyer vibes: “The Last Song” ends the album with just Bejar and guitar, a quiet epilogue intended as a resolution after all the zaniness before it.

It might also be a resolution to a certain version of Destroyer. With Bejar positing that Labyrinthitis could be the end of a trilogy begun with Ken and Have We Met, perhaps we’re soon in store for Destroyer’s next transformation. When Have We Met came out, it first struck me as a capstone to Bejar’s ’10s work. Now the picture is clearer, more complete. From synthscapes and beats both muscular on Ken and broadcast on Have We MetBejar and Collins ventured further into the wilderness. Labyrinthitis a frazzled, entrancing, hilarious, poignant collection of songs. Which, of course, is not only a fitting conclusion to the trilogy — it’s exactly what you want out of a Destroyer album.

Labyrinthitis is out 3/25 on Merge.

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