The way Dan Bejar makes the most out of nostalgia and the way he balances melancholy has always been very fascinating, and his last effort Ken, in this perspective, is a bit of a disappointment, unfortunately. Much closer to Kaputt than to the soundwise much more sumptuous previous Poison Season, Destroyer published one of their most straight forward and honest-to-goodness records up to date.
Given that the declared intention was to make a simpler record, in doing so Ken actually ends up sounding a bit empty at times, whereas Poison Season succeeded in embracing different emotions all at once, being much more on a chamber-pop shore, it had a strong orchestral dimension of which Ken has been thoughtfully stripped out.
On the contrary, Ken brings to the table 40 minutes of esoteric synthpop filled with optimistic melodies which go hand in hand with sense of abandonment and desolation. What guides the listener through Ken indeed, is a more gloomy-day vibe made of deliberately (?) bare songs lead by Dan Bejar’s peculiar dapperness, which however, seem to struggle to really take off, though.
If Streethawk: A Seduction winked at the ’70s art-rock, Ken gravitates around ’80s synth-pop. As a matter of fact, in the embryonic stage of the album, Dan Bejar and drummer/producer Josh Wells shared a deep affection for Cure’s characteristic sound (Disintegration, Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me), particularly for their melodies and their greyness; elements that certainly lead the way through the 11 pieces that the Canadian act displays on Ken.
There’s a mournfulness in there that comes across through Dan Bejar’s voice, which is both contemplative and resigned at times holding up the thematic lucidity distinctive of Destroyer, still present on the record. “Give up acting? Fuck no! I’m just starting to get the good parts!” Bejar wanted to give an overall impression of a half empty and drugged-up voice, to carry on songs that for the main part were written in hotel rooms, and then tried out live with the band, on tour. Let’s give props to him for the approach, anyway. Nevertheless, this is probably the reason of the strong feeling of sketchiness this record leaves you with. It’s good but you realize it needed a little more salt once you’ve already eaten it up.
The guitar tremolo on the first two tracks helps to perceive them as a unique massive intro and, side by side with a sturdy bass -again heavily reminding the sound of The Cure’s peak era- sets the mood. Some interesting moments are found in “Rome” and in the closing dance track “la Regle Du Jeu,” which at least reinvigorate the set of tracks. Other than that, Ken screams aloud “Synth pop from the ’80s”, and you soon start wondering if this record could’ve been enhanced somehow, or if it came out of the oven too soon. A great pity since highlights in this are very good.
Surely capable of achieving more, with this untroubled as well as not entirely satisfying release, Destroyer lets himself go a bit. Worth a listen but not one of their best shots.