After a five year absence, 2019 brought forth not just one new TR/ST album, but two, both of which cohesively form The Destroyer. Coincidently perhaps, Robert Alfons previously divided his time up writing and recording material for this new project in an isolated Ontario farmhouse and in Los Angeles.
Following the release of his last studio album Joyland back in 2014, Alfons had felt “depleted” and the sessions for what would later become The Destroyer formed a healing process of sorts for the Canadian musician. During the process of writing and recording the material for the album, Alfons had to go through what he described as a “cycle of darkness and disconnection”.
The Destroyer also sees Alfons reunited with original collaborator Maya Postepski (Austra, Princess Century). That reunion, which had been sparked when Postepski had by chance been listening to an old TR/ST track, resulted in the musical sketches for what would later become ‘Colossal’ (which appeared on The Destroyer – Part One). Alfons has also worked with drummer Lia Braswell (A Place to Bury Strangers) on The Destroyer, giving the album some organic percussion in places (Braswell also plays drums on TR/ST’s live outings).
The decision to divide the album up into two distinct halves was apparently a tough one, but Alfons seemed to take into account the idea that a 16 track album might be a little intimidating for audiences. “I felt like if I split it up it would be easier to digest and people would listen to it more” he concluded.
When The Destroyer – Part One (see The Electricity Club review) was released back in April this year, listeners were exposed to an album that Alfons had previously described as “really intense, sort of promiscuous in its sound.” It certainly boasted some exceptional moments, including the aforementioned ‘Colossal’ alongside the emotional punch of ‘Gone’.
Now, bookending that first release, comes The Destroyer – Part Two, a darker affair that also presents a more stripped-back approach to composition than we’re used to from TR/ST. “I just I think that a lot of the The Destroyer – Part Two is not as intense and into hard beats and dance music as the previous universe where the band has existed” reflected Alfons in a recent interview.
There’s a bleakness to opening track ‘Enduring Chill’ underpinned by its restrained piano melodies, a quality that seems to seep into the rest of the album. TR/ST has always embraced a sleazy synth sound, but this album seems to be an attempt to explore those darker thoughts in a starker fashion.
That said, ‘Iris’ drops us back into more familiar ground. A busy electronic collage with its machine-like synths, its the only time the album steps up a gear and seems like the logical connection the The Destroyer’s first half.
Alfons visits a more melancholic mood on ‘Darling’, which again makes more use of a downbeat piano. But its live percussion gives it a more earthy feel.
There’s more dreamlike soundscapes on the oddly named ‘cor’, which comes across as some cosmic composition lost in the deeps of space.
The album’s title track ‘Destroyer’ (which originally appeared way back in December 2017) has a more engaging quality, whilst keeping that sense of bleakness front and centre. Here, the reedy synth hooks combine with effective shuffling drum fills with Alfons’ yearning vocals falling over the top of it all.
There’s a reflective mood on the instrumental track ‘Shame’ with its plaintive piano notes. Meanwhile, ‘The Stain’ offers up space-like guitar for a suitably dark and moody reverie.
The album closes with ‘Slow Burn’, another co-write with Maya Postepski which embraces subtle synth-pop hooks with a steady percussive drive. Alfons’ vocal delivery carries a suitably emotional heft (“And it’s killing me…”), marking this number as one of the album’s highlights – and the perfect track to bring proceedings to a close.
This second instalment perhaps doesn’t quite deliver on the same level as The Destroyer – Part One, but it still boasts some fine moments and continues to establish TR/ST as one of the more unusual, yet compelling electronic acts in the contemporary music scene.
The Destroyer – Part Two is out now.