Review Summary: Reaching for the sky, and ending up in space.
Agent Fresco were on top of the world in 2010. They formed just weeks out from the Icelandic equivalent of ‘The Battle of the Bands’ (Musiktilraunir) in 2008, deciding to compete more-or-less on a whim. And yet, masters of their respective crafts and songwriting, they came out on top, not only winning overall but also receiving “best of…” awards in each instrumental category. Over the next 2 years they would release an EP (Lightbulb Universe
) and an LP (A Long Time Listening
), with both receiving critical and commercial acclaim, as well as dressing their jackets with several awards from their home country. It’s hard not to be impressed by artists that can fearlessly blend piles of disparate influences together and still end up with works as coherent and engaging as the aforementioned LP. It was undoubtedly an exhausting listen, doubly so due to the morose lyrical content dealing with the death of vocalist Arnór Dan Arnarson’s father, but it was equal parts endearing thanks to the band’s irresistibly quirky demeanour.
But then, Agent Fresco slowed their pace, and all that momentum they built up over those two years fizzled away. 5 years is a long time off for a band thrown so abruptly into the spotlight, and as quickly as they emerged, they vanished again. During this interim, Arnór was viciously assaulted and hospitalized, producing bouts of both anxiety and uncontrollable anger that would ultimately be a large portion of the inspiration for Destrier
. The result is an incredibly dynamic continuation of their previous album that, while occasionally unfocused, manages to double down on many of ALTL
’s best traits and surprise listeners at every turn.
opens with a taunt. “You’ve waited 5 years, you can wait another minute, right?” Over a minute of feedback slowly builds up, eventually caving to a stately introduction that puts any of their past stabs at the dramatic to shame. It’s a bit much, even by their standards, and that excess would be a strike against them if it didn’t serve to build anticipation for the monster that is 'Dark Water'. This lead single and album highlight contains a myriad of styles handled in their past works, all mashed together into one incredibly dense piece. It skitters from flighty piano licks to aggressive syncopated riffing, with the signature angelic lead vocals tying it all together despite how abrupt several transitions are. It’s got all those characteristic traits the fans have come to love, crammed into one little fun-size package - far from simple, but it is a logical continuation of the trademark they’ve established.
They take this ethos of bigger-is-better into everything they do, meaning several key tracks follow a similar formula and lend strength to the album in the same manner. However, it acts both a blessing and a curse, with many of the small gaps in their formula growing more pronounced. Swapping between so many different styles can break the listener’s immersion at the best of times, but here it’s often downright jarring. The title track makes itself known with yet another soaring chorus, but falls flat on its face with an extremely uncomfortable attempt at being heavy. ‘Angst’ suffers the same fate, where the band aims for brutality, but ends up with a drummer bluntly bashing his head against his kit at a consistent pace for the most out-of-place 45 seconds you’ll find on the album. The band stated that anger was a major theme here, but they simply don’t incorporate it into their established sound effectively. Similarly, their bid to outdo themselves resulted in another loopable album. However, while ALTL
opened and closed the curtains with an interesting piano melody, Destrier
makes us suffer through another awkward minute of feedback to complete the Möbius strip. It's just too much - in the push for more drama and a more grandiose scale, it ends up overshooting the mark and effectively dissuades the listener from looping the album; the polar opposite of what was intended.
Despite these issues, Agent Fresco have written this album with a very steady hand. You’ll find motifs being revisited, varied lyricism and a huge range of song structures engage all sorts of listeners as the band careens along their absurd path. There’s plenty here to love, yet plenty to encourage naysayers as well – your enjoyment depends solely on what you want to get out of it. In the single week since the album came out, it’s already shot up to #1 on the Icelandic charts, so it seems Destrier
has already accomplished what it set out to do. Sure, it may be too wacky and disjointed to pull in critics of their old works, but none of that matters if they can continue stealing the hearts of their fans.