The song “Saw You at the Hospital,” from Destroyer’s newest album, ken, was written while the band’s frontman, Dan Bejar, was recovering at a Swiss hospital after getting pneumonia on tour in 2015. What Bejar thought would only be a quick trip to get antibiotics turned into a three-day internment. Being seriously ill in a foreign country—and probably a little incoherent—results in one of the best songs on ken and serves as a centerpiece for the remainder of the album. “Saw you at the hospital / Your mind was on fire / Your gowns were falling down / Well it’s a scene, at least we think so / Well it’s a scene, at least we think so,” Bejar rambles. The rest of the album is similarly disconnected and uncertain, almost to the point of disallowing interpretation.
Performing since the 1990s and having released twelve full-length albums, Destroyer has developed a reputation for reliably emotion-infused and poetic work. ken is no exception, yet this latest creation has an underlying paranoia and nervousness that is more apparent than in previous albums. Bejar’s sneering, languid voice overlaps ghostly synthesizers and wavering instrumentation; the songs seem to try to untangle events and seemingly unrelated moments leading up to the current place and time.
On “Tinseltown Swimming in Blood,” Bejar utilizes language of times passed—who uses the word “tinseltown” anymore?—to explore this series of events to culminate in the present. “I couldn’t see, I was blind / Off in the corner, doing poet’s work / That’s alright for now / It was just a dream of your blue eyes,” Bejar sings. The record would have fit in perfectly during the restless, nihilistic post-punk of the 1980s: ken contains an undeniable nostalgia infused with an anxiety and uncertainty that has come to characterize 2017.
Yet, the album’s ultimate meaning is blurry, it works to avoid any direct definition. In typical Bejar style, ken relies on ambiguous lyricism, avoiding any overt references to a story arc or personal discovery. Unlike many songwriters of today who feel their album must represent shattering realizations of the world and themselves, Bejar feels no such pressure. The album keeps any explicitly personal interpretations at an arm’s distance. Instead, it elicits a certain melancholy, reflective atmosphere and allows the tracks to exist in a quivering, timeless fog without any solid subject to grasp onto.