Destroyer at Cat’s Cradle
Destroyer’s latest album, LABYRINTHITIS, brims with mystic and intoxicating terrain, the threads of Dan Bejar’s notes woven through by a trove of allusions at once eerily familiar and intimately perplexing. The record circuitously draws ever inward, each turn offering giddy surprise, anxious esoterica, and thumping emotionality at equal odds. “Do you remember the mythic beast?” Bejar asks at the outset of “Tintoretto, It’s for You,” the album’s first single, casting torchlight over the labyrinth’s corridors. “Tintoretto, it’s for you/ The ceiling’s on fire and the contract is binding.” Delivered in a Marlene Dietrich smolder, Bejar’s lyrical menace seeps like smoke through the brazen march’s woozy synths and dizzied guitar. “There’s some character here that feels new to me, a low drawl, an evening gown draped over a piano,” Bejar says of the song. Throughout, LABYRINTHITIS insists that everything’s not all right, but that even isolation and dissolution can be a source of joy— stepping into the sunlight at the other end of the maze in your ear, Bejar strolling alongside like a wild-maned, leisure- suited minotaur.
More than an arcane puzzle for the listener, LABYRINTHITIS warps and winds through unfamiliar territory for Bejar as well. Written largely in 2020 and recorded the following spring, the album most often finds Bejar and frequent collaborator John Collins seeking the mythic artifacts buried somewhere under the dance floor, from the glitzy spiral of “It Takes a Thief” to the Books-ian collage bliss of the title track. Initial song ideas ventured forth from disco, Art of Noise, and New Order, Bejar and Collins championing the over-the-top madcappery. “John is in his 50s, and I’m almost there, but we used to go to clubs,” Bejar laughs. “Our version may have been punk clubs, but our touchstones for the album were more true to disco.”
Bejar and Collins conducted their questing in the height of isolation, Collins on the remote Galiano Island and Bejar in nearby Vancouver, sending ideas back and forth when restrictions didn’t allow them to meet. “From the vocal manipulation to the layered electronics, making this record pushed us to a new place, and reaching that place felt stressful,” Bejar recalls. “But I trust that that stress is a good feeling.” That cuddly anxiety excels in tracks like “Eat the Wine, Drink the Bread,” Joshua Wells’ percussion and Collins’ drum programming pushing Bejar’s voice forward. “The whole world’s a stage/ That I don’t know/ I am going through,” he sighs, before reaching the frustrated religious imagery of the title.
Lyrically, LABYRINTHITIS embraces a widescreen maximalism, blocks of text dotted with subversions and hedges. Building from the koans of Have We Met, Bejar continues to carve his words precisely, toying with expectations and staid symbols, while Collins’ production reconstructs the pieces into a unified whole. “Even though everyone recorded in their own isolated corners, this is the most band record that we’ve done in the last few years,” Bejar says. “Everything’s manipulated, but the band is really present, and our plans wound up betrayed by what the tracks wanted. I’ve written 300, 400 songs in my adult life—I don’t know how to do anything else—but this album feels like a breakthrough into new territory.”