The Destroyer, Part 2

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After years away from the limelight, TR/ST's Robert Alfons made a striking return with Destroyer, an album whose lengthy gestation was reflected in its two-part release. On Destroyer, Vol. 1, Alfons confronted loss and shame with hard-hitting yet heartbroken songs; on Destroyer, Vol. 2, he explores the aftermath of those outbursts with a subtler approach that's just as powerful in its softness. Since he's so accomplished at finding new shades of black and honing the industrial grit of his music, it can be easy to overlook how important the gentler side of Alfons' expression is to TR/ST as a whole. He brings that fragility front and center with the opening track "Enduring Chill," where his tender vocals and piano offer tiny flickers of warmth amongst cavernous, frostbitten synths. It's a prelude to Destroyer, Vol. 2's hollowed-out heartache, which finds Alfons using space and stillness as expressively as he's used dense sonics and restless beats in the past. On "COR," he plays with distance and connection, first setting his voice adrift on rolling clouds of reverberating synths, then bringing it so close that it sounds like he's whispering in listeners' ears. The album's spaciousness also gives Alfons room to surprise. While the alternately toothy and radiant synths and surging melody of "Iris" sound like quintessential TR/ST -- and an echo of Destroyer, Vol. 1's "Bicep" -- "Darling" is a gorgeously sullen, torchy ballad that has more in common with Tindersticks than Alfons' usual type of drama. Likewise, the live drums and piano that drive "Destroyer" lend an extra immediacy and intimacy to confessions like "I'm the destroyer of everyone." Here and on the achingly beautiful "The Stain," the largely acoustic arrangements spotlight the nuances of Alfons' voice, which has always been the heart of TR/ST's music. On the other hand, the halting piano melody of "Shame" -- the main theme of both volumes of Destroyer -- needs no words to speak volumes with its eloquent pauses. By the time "Slow Burn" brings the album full circle by trailing off on tones much like the ones that appeared on "Colossal," the song that began Destroyer, Vol. 1, Destroyer, Vol. 2 proves it's much more than just a coda to the music that preceded it. Along with providing more time and space for the album's emotional journey to resonate, it introduces exciting dimensions to Alfons' music that make the entire Destroyer project a satisfying and well-earned catharsis.

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