Have We Met is nearly impossible to want to exit once you’ve started to mentally map its sounds.
By this point, it’s probably safe to say that Dan Bejar is something of a musical genius. Nine years on from Destroyer’s widespread breakthrough Kaputt, Bejar has slowly morphed his sound, each new release taking the lessons learned from the previous album and creating something familiar, but not exactly similar – 2015’s Poison Season ramped up the soft rock of Kaputt with added big band flourishes, while 2017’s ken maintained some of those same pop atmospheres while shifting them into a world of ’80s synth-pop.
Now, three years later, he’s stripped most all of that back for the synth-focused Have We Met. Just three people created the sounds of Bejar’s 12th release: longtime producer John Collins handled the lion’s share of the album’s synths, as well as bass and drum machines, while Nicolas Bragg, who has appeared on every Destroyer record since This Night, offers up some guitar. Outside of this, it’s just Bejar’s voice. In stripping everything back, he proves that he doesn’t need much else to create something compelling – a concept that elegantly flies in the face of the full-band poise he’s exhibited for so long.
There’s something unsettling within the walls of Have We Met. Bejar sounds like a ghost in most instances, as though the product of an incredibly-satisfying posthumous release. Each song exudes remarkable beauty, but at times it feels like a brooding synth record with samples sourced from just one person. Take “The Raven,” for instance: as Bragg’s soaring guitars begin to push him out of the mix, you can hear him singing “That’s what I’ll write about when I write about The Raven” repeatedly as his voice begins to fade into an echo, much like the word “Breathless” just a stanza before. But then, one song later, it feels like he’s regained control of his surroundings, cheekily calling out the song’s elegant build: “Cue synthesizer/ Cue guitar/ Bring in the drums/ Cue fake drum.”
Collins’ creative reign over the sound of Have We Met is a huge part of what makes it so profoundly satisfying. Despite how unsettling moments can feel, it’s still packed with remarkable beauty. The way “Crimson Tide” slowly fades in and hits you a piano line that sounds not far off of the Wii Shop Channel music alongside phazer-heavy guitars and slap bass will suck you in immediately, and hold onto you through equally stunning tracks like “The Man in Black’s Blues” or the sultry “Cue Synthesizer.” The album’s title track doesn’t even need Bejar – it’s just sparse guitar noise echoing in the darkness and the ethereal hum of synths, but it’s captivating still. Every Destroyer record since Destroyer’s Rubies has been “the best-sounding Destroyer record,” but Have We Met is nearly impossible to want to exit once you’ve started to mentally map its sounds.
As with any Destroyer release, you’ll feel the urge to create a Google Doc just for your favorite lines. Bejar’s stream-of-consciousness songwriting takes center stage, often charmingly funny (“Went to America, went to Europe, it’s all the same shit”), sometimes quietly poignant (“When you’re looking for something/ That you know is through/ It’s like it flies away/ Before your very eyes”). On paper, most of the songs are sparsely written, but each song’s delivery carries enough weight that his repetition of “You know it just doesn’t happen to anyone/ You know it doesn’t just happen to anyone” feels like it hits like a ton of bricks. If you didn’t know that many of the vocal performances here were the first or second take, you could imagine him infinitely tinkering with how he delivered lines like “Crimson Tide’s” “He’s not a child, he’s 25/ He’s never felt so alive/ Crimson tide” or “Just look at the world around you/ Actually, no, don’t look” – but the fact that all of this seemingly came out of him easily makes the talent at work all the more dizzying. By the end, you’ll almost beg for a version of “University Hill” that’s made up only of the call-and-response repetition “Come on, University Hill/ “It’s called love”” that closes the song.
At this point, it’s just impossible to predict where Bejar will take Destroyer on his 13th album. The path that leads between releases is only obvious in hindsight, but from within Have We Met, guessing what comes next feels too murky to even make guesses about. What it does tell us is that his strengths as a bandleader – no matter how big that band may be – are powerful enough that it doesn’t actually matter. That said, this is a captivating enough record that you almost wish he’d stay put and explore these soundscapes for awhile. And why not? Have We Met is yet another instance of Bejar sounding as though he’s struck musical gold, and it’s hard not to wonder what would happen if he really honed in on a sound – if he did, he’d probably be unstoppable.