Destroyer – LABYRINTHITIS Album Review

What is labyrinthitis, anyway? The illness inflames the inner ear (which controls your balance), triggering dizziness and vertigo. Perhaps this serves as an explanation for the title of Canadian indie pop band Destroyer’s newest studio album; LABYRINTHITIS’ lush soundscapes and psychedelic instrumentation make for a dizzying, surreal listening experience. 

LABYRINTHITIS is an immersive experience from the very beginning. The opener, “It’s in Your Heart Now,” is the peak of the psychedelia that the album has to offer, and perhaps the peak of the album as a whole. Frontman Dan Bejar’s notoriously cryptic lyrics mesh perfectly with the reverb-heavy, psychedelic atmosphere of the production and instrumentation, and his use of repetitive phrases only adds to the surreality of the track. The subsequent tracks, though decidedly not as ethereal, consistently maintain that same mystical atmosphere. “June,” for example, employs a more bombastic, 80s-synthpop-esque instrumental, which, when combined with Bejar’s poetic spoken-word outro, makes for a truly dynamic and interesting track. 

Bejar’s songwriting has long been favored by critics, but on his newest album, it truly shines. However, the lyrics are not at the forefront as they have been in some of Destroyer’s previous work; Bejar was even criticized by some reviewers for not backing up his brilliant lyrics with equally-brilliant instrumentation. The lyrics don’t take a back seat, either, though; instead, the lyrics and instrumentals are on equal footing, making for a solid, cohesive album. Bejar’s lyrics are strange, but clever and profound, with various references to the visual arts, mythology, and religion. “Tintoretto, It’s for You” is a prime example of this. The song was named for a “semi-obscure Venetian painter” who Bejar evidently liked as a self-identified pretentious artist in his 20s (via Pitchfork). In the context of the song, Tintoretto is a symbol of the narrator’s hubris that has haunted him throughout his adult life, who he eventually is forced to confront as he comes face-to-face with death. The song tells its dark, invigorating tale through some of Bejar’s best lyricism, with electrifying verses such as “Tintoretto, it’s for you / The ceiling’s on fire and the contract is binding / Your little one’s sick at the sight of (insert three syllables here) at night / They drop you from a great height / Into a war that you were born to lose.” “Tintoretto, It’s for You” best exemplifies all of LABYRINTHITIS’ best qualities: its musical craftsmanship, clever lyrics, and expert storytelling. 

LABYRINTHITIS remains mostly strong throughout its runtime, though it does begin to lull a bit towards the end. The penultimate “The States” is pleasant, but overstays its welcome and doesn’t quite reach the same peaks the other tracks do (with the exception of the title track, which is too bland to even mention otherwise). The final track, however, is where the project disappoints. Aptly titled “The Last Song,” the track seems to only be there to be, well, the last song. Its atmosphere and overall lackluster musicality (at least in comparison to the rest of the album) just seem entirely out-of-place in such an otherwise engaging and interesting album. LABYRINTHITIS had the potential to be one of the best albums of the year, but it is ultimately held back by its weaker moments. Nevertheless, LABYRINTHITIS is innovative, creative, and near-otherworldly at its peaks, and it is thought-provoking and intricate enough to be worth hearing at least once.