From one Destroyer album to the next, the only real constant is Dan Bejar’s distinct vocals. While Destroyer has grappled with different genres for almost two decades, the lead singer and songwriter’s unique voice has crooned delicately about love, ironically about the state of both personal and world affairs and helped to frame the soundscape in which Destroyer continually produces works that are stunningly aware and intelligent. 

“ken,” the followup to 2015’s acclaimed and full-sounding “Poison Season,” draws its title from the original name of “The Wild Ones,” a song by alternative rock band Suede that Bejar has called “one of the great English-language ballads of the last 100 years.” “The Wild Ones,” which wistfully implores a lover to stay, certainly has a lyrical focus that can be applied to Destroyer. Yet Bejar insists that he wasn’t thinking about Suede when he lifted the name for his own purposes: he was thinking about the last few years of Margaret Thatcher’s rule.

If you’re perplexed, don’t worry. Being perplexed by Destroyer isn’t unusual — on the opening track and lead single “Sky’s Grey,” Bejar informs “Dear young revolutionary capitalists / [that] The groom’s in the gutter / And the bride just pissed herself.” He then repeats multiple times that he’s “working on the new Oliver Twist,” a line that Bejar analyzes as “a romantic call to arms amidst a disgusting scenario.” The song’s curious mix of electronic synths and orchestration is a marked change in style for Destroyer but is reminiscent of “Kaputt,” 2011’s critically-lauded project.

The influence of New Order and ’80s music sounds are the clearest on “In the Morning,” whose harsh guitars and sleek keyboard pulse during Bejar’s mocking insistence that “You wanted it to be cool / Oh you thought that it would be alright.” Pulsing synths on “Tinseltown Swimming in Blood” drive opaque lyrics about “Towers coming up for air” and “Dead flowers on the skyline.” The final refrain “I was a dreamer / Watch me leave” raises more questions than it answers before a confused saxophone trill closes the track.

This persistent combination of New-Order-esque sound and crushing lyrics is bizarre — and Bejar embraces this. While synths and keyboards provide metronomic consistency on “A Light Travels Down the Catwalk,” he sings to “strike an empty pose” before clarifying that “a pose is always empty.” There’s a loneliness to this album captured by the seedy and glitzy atmosphere of synth pop and jazz that Destroyer explores in great detail. On “Rome,” Bejar wistfully mourns that “You do not save the day / You wait to get out of town” before sadly intoning in the song’s hook that “You do as Romans do.” 

“ken”’s greatest strength is in its modest accessibility, a trait that is often missing from Destroyer works. “Cover from the Sun” is an infectious jam, a barely-two-minute sing-along that feels almost mocking when Bejar talks about “reading Shakespeare at a bar.” “Sometimes in the World” is a direct address to sadness: when Bejar sings that “Sometimes in the world the thing that you love dies, and you cry and cry and cry,” the clarity is astonishing, especially given the opacity and lyrical ambiguity that has colored his entire body of work. 

Destroyer guides the reader on “Stay Lost,” insisting that “being alone’s an illusion” and calling on the reader to stray, to roam and to embrace the hopelessness and absurdity that Bejar constantly acknowledges. The longest song on this album is “A Light Travels Down the Catwalk,” which clocks in at just over five minutes, a far cry from Kaputt’s closing 11-minute masterpiece “Bay of Pigs.” “ken”’s last track “La Regle du Jeu” (named after “The Rules of the Game,” a French film that about moral callousness and satirization) triumphantly rushes the album to its conclusion, with a rare electric guitar solo and synths that shimmer and pulse like nothing Destroyer has done before. 

“ken”’s excellent lyrical content and 1980s soundscape make for a Destroyer record that feels fresh and inspired. However, the back half of the album plods a little, with the stretch from “Rome” to “Ivory Coast” marking the worst part of the album. Despite this, “ken” is a fantastic release from Destroyer that tackles themes of anxiety and loneliness with sharp and biting lyrics. Listen to it, and you’ll be rewarded with one of the most thought-provoking listens of the year.