Album Review:

Conn Thornton - Destroyer

Conn Thornton’s fantastic debut album Destroyer is proof that oftentimes the best singer-songwriter music is stripped down to the essentials. That isn’t to say that Destroyer is minimal or simple; the lyrics are rich and highly poetic, Conn’s voice sometimes almost theatrical, and the music nothing short of virtuosic, but the fact that these three elements are given full centre stage is what makes the album so brilliantly immersive, and what proves Conn’s talent.

The Belfast-based artist made their first release, Abraham’s Daughter, last year – a five track (one of which makes it onto Destroyer) EP that showcased their incredible piano-playing and songwriting ability. Much of Destroyer features Conn and a piano, which is all that’s needed to keep you captivated throughout. A classically trained pianist, there are gorgeous piano segments all over the album, arranged and played to the tone of the songs and the lyrics, which are virtuosic in their own right.

Conn delves into heartbreak, relationships, identity and more with as much literacy as a Romantic poet; the result is something like 1970s piano ballads written by John Keats. Taking influence from contemporary singer-songwriters like Sufjan Stevens and Phoebe Bridgers, Conn’s songwriting finds its strength in vulnerability.

‘City Song’, the lead single to the album, tracks the first stage of the heartbreak that is so central to much of Destroyer; ‘are you safe from everything I gave you, cursed by all the love you had received?’ The feelings towards this broken relationship map a kind of narrative in the album that progresses to antagonism on ‘City Song II’, and finally acceptance on the beautiful title track, which closes the album. The intimacy with which Conn deals with these feelings is what makes the album so compelling; ‘Isaiah’, the emotional centrepiece of Destroyer, recalls bittersweet memories with such vivid imagery and personal detail that you cannot help but reflect on your own life, including embarrassing moments spent waiting on someone and checking your phone every two seconds for them not to arrive.

This blend of poetics and the everyday comes through on a lot of the songs here, and it’s one of the things that make Conn such a fascinated songwriter. As well as the fantastic piano playing, there are some dreampop-type guitars and some haunting ambient synths weaved through the tracklist, which gives the album a strong sense of a cohesive sound and aesthetic. On top of that, Conn’s vocal chops aren’t just technically great but also highly emotive, singing with a kind of classical baritone of a Morrissey or Orville Peck.

All in all, Destroyeris a startling debut album; from its character portraits on ‘Wednesday Night Bar Scene’, to the emotional devastation of its title track, Conn proves to be a unique voice and a performer that we will no doubt be hearing a lot from in the future.