On ‘Destroyer,’ M.A.G.S. explores the ugly reality of severe depression

Elliott Douglas’ Los Angeles-based band's latest album successfully emerges with songs that do not sacrifice catchiness for darkness.
mynameisblueskye
mynameisblueskye
A singer-songwriter from Boston, MA that also writes blogs about music from time to time. A loud and proud as fuck member of the Alt-Black, LGBT and autistic community.

It may seem gauche to compare a deep depression to a toxic relationship, but it doesn’t seem all that silly after you really put it into perspective. You meet someone; you feel a sense of not only comfort but safety in just being “weak.” Then, time goes by, and they take advantage of your weakness in a way that suggests judgment about your lack of strength. So, you realize that depression is the one destroying you, but you have no idea as to how to leave or get it to leave you. You’ll do anything, but the longer that you spend feeling depressed about life the more it feels like life would be worse without depression simply because depression is all you have known for way too long and seems like the only frenemy you can count on. And so, you have no idea how to really move on, but at the very least, you want something to end, even if that something is yourself. Such is the reality introduced to us through Destroyer, M.A.G.S.’ fourth project.

People may be familiar with the catchy tunes of M.A.G.S., Elliott Douglas’ Buffalo, NY- bred, Los Angeles-based band. “Wait,” one of the tunes in question carries the confident swagger of indie rock acts before him, with such brightly shone melodies, bouncy rhythm, and a chorus inviting you to sing along with him. Destroyer does not skimp out on these types of songs, but this time around, the songs explore that dark, shadowy place most dread revisiting. Only M.A.G.S. can successfully emerge with songs that do not sacrifice catchiness for darkness.

Genre-wise, Destroyer can best be considered an example of “soul punk.” This classification blends emo, pop-punk, and soul/R&B, much like nightlife and Cherie Amour. However, it would also be accurate to file Destroyer under power-pop sometimes. Whatever your choice in categorization, the album holds up as a worthy entry point.

The tsar bomba of an opening title track starts off poppy before eventually exploding in one’s ear in ways that blur the line between hardcore and pop-punk. The energy does not let up as “Sins” hits as hard as any rock song is allowed to, and “Elephant” basically dares you to bang your head and pull out the air guitar somewhere. Some songs reveal little surprises in their structure, such as “Swimming” slowly falling away to reveal trap drums and “Her” melting to reveal a modern psychedelic soul coda. Outside of that, not a moment of softness is truly spare. 

As for the lyrics, plenty implies a crippling depression that ruins his current relationship. “I hear you calling my name / to which I have no reply,” sings Douglas on “Sins” before revealing that “it’s so much easier living in [his] head.” Many tunes tackle this dissonance between love—be it love for a partner or love for one’s self, one’s level of self-hatred, and how one causes the slow and painful dissolution of the other. He echoes this sentiment on the title track by concluding, “I never loved her because I never loved myself.”

The closer “Supermoon” possibly either reveals the “her” as the suicidal depression itself or continues the theme of relationships being a temporary yet unhelpful salve to wanting an end to the pain discussed. Either way, the ending is near. “If my life is over tonight, we got one last chance to fuck and get high” and “I’m not even real / if this is a dream, then let me wake up” are lines that hint at this. No answers are found, no release, just a man surveying his own shadow.

Destroyer doesn’t bother trying to make depression any more poetic than it is. Most albums explore the darkness with some hope at the end of the dark tunnel. Meanwhile, Destroyer takes a look at the hurtful, ugly nothingness and carries some semblance of hope for the pain to end—but not enough to believe said pain will be eradicated swiftly and painlessly. It is a diary from someone in the trenches who would love a way out but doesn’t see any. Although most people would have liked an album to give a sense of hope that things would be alright, some might prefer an album that stews in the real painful possibility that you might not ever get out. For them, Destroyer exists.

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