M.A.G.S.: Destroyer (Smartpunk) - review | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, December 5th, 2023  




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Versatility has always been one of the defining strengths of Elliott Douglas’ music as M.A.G.S. Between his 2017 self-titled debut and his 2021 follow-up, Say Things That Matter, he’s moved in a variety of circles, ranging from surfy garage rock, lo-fi indie, folk rock, pop punk, and gnarled and heavy alt rock. He’s given the impression of an artist who excels in many lanes, but one who is still carving his own. His latest album, Destroyer, feels like the closest he’s yet come, blending his influences together better than ever in a tracklist full of mercurial rock stylings.

Most of the songs on Destroyer veer wildly between tones, tempos, and song structures, punctuating the tracks with sludgy breakdowns, spacious guitar passages, or soaring hooks. In a single track, Douglas may open on a driving rock riff, ascend into a stadium-ready chorus, drop down into an acoustic diversion, and finish on a punishing, distortion-heavy breakdown. It feels like Douglas is offering up everything he can, loading it all into a dizzying stylistic spin and crafting a simultaneously heavier and more melodic record than his previous efforts.

Look no further than the searing punk climax of the opener, “Destroyer,” the triumphant vocal harmonies on the chorus of “Elephant,” or the sweet twinkling verses and towering climax on “Wednesday.” In contrast, “Swimming” sees Douglas’ vocal delivery verging on an emphatic fusion of punk and rap. The track’s outro buries his vocals in a hazy, psychedelic wash of 808s and distorted guitar textures. On the whole, the album is at its best when operating in this mode, playing out on a grand scale amidst careening stylistic turns and massive, melodic swings. Even when the record loses some momentum with “Her,” it quickly regains it on “Floyd,” jumping between lithe guitar grooves and a gleaming anthemic chorus.

Thematically, the record also takes on an equally widescreen approach, with Douglas often adopting a wayward and searching lyrical process. As Douglas describes, the album draws on cycles of death and rebirth; “destroying yourself for the purpose of growth.” He sings of being caught between every feeling, and there’s an indelible sense of yearning running beneath the album’s lyrics. In many cases, the album’s raging moments feel like Douglas burning everything down, while the anthemic bursts of melody hint towards rebirth and renewal.

The title track builds to a fervent chant, with Douglas screaming “Destroy her/Destroy me too/I never loved her ‘cause I never loved myself/I don’t wanna hear it.” Douglas, through much of the album, seems to be excising corrosive bitterness, addressing his anger towards others with a palpable venom. He delivers plenty of accusatory fury on “Wednesday,” singing “I remember what you said/I remember what you did/You break your skin for anything/I remember that you called/Broke down, bleeding at your fall/You’ve got some nerve.”

Though he never quite feels steady or settled, Douglas does also temper the anger with moments of sincerity. “Elephant” ends on a note that almost feels hopeful, though still tinged with a simmering anxious undercurrent: “Too many roads to count/I don’t even know which one/I wouldn’t say I’m pеssimistic/But I’m praying that I make it home.” Late in the album, the existentially-laden themes come to a head on “Supermoon,” with Douglas finding a certain acceptance within the uncertainty of life and death. That sense of sincerity is what most sets apart Destroyer. Douglas pulls out all the stops he can, delivering his most singular and varied set of tracks yet. (www.elliottmags.com)

Author rating: 7/10

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