This is without a doubt one of those episodes of A Scene In Retrospect that could do just fine without any introduction from my part. Agent Fresco‘s sophomore release Destrier is beyond any such outside clarification, as are the reactions our team has had to it over the years. Therefore, I will simply yield the stage to the team I assembled for today’s ceremonies: PR/social media manager Inter, senior writer Rodney, and staff writers Jake and Adam. Take it away, guys.
As a reviewer and writer, it’s difficult to bestow the label of ‘perfect’ to any album. There is always something that could be tweaked in the production or pacing, or perhaps a song winds on for just a little too long. You can’t just go around saying an album is flawless – you’ll lose your credibility! Of course, I think we all know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and a ‘perfect’ album will always be a subjective pronouncement. While I don’t know if I have ever committed to giving this honor to any album, Destrier is one of only a handful that I would consider for this status. The way the songs flow into each other, as is the case with “Let The See Us” to “Dark Water”, is a thing of unmatched beauty. It still amazes me every time I play press play.
The melodic and harmonic structure that makes up these songs is unparalleled. From the dreamy “Pyre” to the incredibly infectious title track, there’s few albums that pair catchiness with complexity in the way that Agent Fresco do on here. Time is made for the lovely ballads such as “Wait For Me” and “Let The Curtain Fall”, which are achingly beautiful. That’s not to say that there aren’t absolute bangers on Destrier. Remember, I kinda called this album perfect. “Howls” will get stuck in my for days on end, and I will never complain about this. “See Hell” is a riffy, atmospheric track that is one of the premiere showcases for vocalist Arnór Dan.
I could go on and on and extol every song in the tracklis,t but I think you know by now that Destrier is a record that simply should not be missed. Every aspect of it, be it the vocals, complex drumming, amazing piano work, atmosphere, and literally everything else is a masterclass on how to write and record music. Iceland is perhaps the most bountiful bastion for amazing music, and Agent Fresco are the crown jewel of their homeland. I’ll keep listening to Destrier while I patiently wait for their next opus.
The Icelandic music scene has long been considered a veritable embarrassment of riches, and it doesn’t take a genius to see why. Its distinguished, taste-making output is unparalleled in almost every genre. Speaking less generally, the impact it’s had on my own life and development is incalculable. From first listening to the beguiling enigma that is Björk at the age of six through to the cinematic soundscapes of Sigur Rós through my early twenties, it has enriched my existence.
This tiny island just South of the Arctic Circle has shaped my musical tastes in more ways than first thought. But it’s one of the more recent finds that has me hypnotised. As a relative late-comer to Agent Fresco, only finding them after the release of their début A Long Time Listening in late 2014, the album became an instant hit and even frequent repeat listens would not quench my thirst for new material. Fortunately, the wait was short, and 2015 brought with it Destrier.
After being so completely bowled over by the band’s début I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t apprehensive about a follow-up. The sophomore slump is not just a maxim, but often a very real pitfall. Thankfully, for Agent Fresco this wasn’t the case.
I distinctly remember the palpable tension as the release date approached. “Dark Water” dropped as the first single, and immediately my fears were alleviated. Not only is it a great song, it also served as a perfect introduction to the band for friends that had yet to board the Agent Fresco train. The subsequent single, “See Hell” only increased that enthusiasm, and is where the concept of Destrier really came to life. It’s no secret that the largest battle in my life is depression and “See Hell” truly encompasses the suffocating toxicity that that black dog has been, through both its lyrics and its chaotic and unyielding composition.
Destrier as a whole is a truly cathartic endeavour that’s made possible by Arnór Dan’s unmistakably remarkable voice that delivers these stories with such tangible fervour that it’s impossible to not be swept away by Destrier and swallowed by its depths.
It really took a while until I got why people were amazed by Agent Fresco; to be honest, it was their live shows that really convinced me. Destrier is a record that really deserves to be called timeless, unique, and progressive.
The first highlight is “Dark Water“, which still amazes me each and every time with its chorus and the overall vocal work by Arnór Dan. Second single “See Hell“ transmits a Meshuggah-ish rhythmical pattern with pop-influenced catchiness, while “Angst“ is 1 1/2 minutes of pure, disturbing madness based on a similar rhythmical level. “Bemoan“ stands out thanks to the great piano performance (which is omnipresent throughout many songs on the record) and the heartwarming voice of Arnór Dan, which really delivers the most intimate feelings to be found in today’s modern music landscape.
If you’d ask me for the very best rock album of the last century, my choice would be nothing else than Destrier. I even bought the vinyl without having an opportunity to even play it, just because I wanted to own one of my favourite albums physically! This record defines my personal standard of what the term ‘musical perfection’ really describes. You can’t go wrong with Agent Fresco, and as much as I hate to say it, I don’t think they’ll ever be able to create something that’s similarly praiseworthy or mentally compelling as Destrier, a properly perfect album that gets me goosebumps spin after spin after spin.
I first encountered Agent Fresco way back in 2011, shortly after the release of their debut full-length A Long Time Listening, and even though I really loved that record, I could have never anticipated what this band would become for me. They were just a very good and very unique modern prog band from Iceland to me, although the performance of vocalist Arnór Dan Arnarson was breathtakingly beautiful even back then. But with the release of their second album Destrier, something changed.
To start out with some understatement, and to make my stance on that album more clear, Destrier is nothing less than one of the best records of our young century. Agent Fresco perfected their already unique sound to create something so incredibly special, moving, powerful, and creative that I still can’t wrap my head around all the details, motifs, and ideas which are displayed, layered, and hidden within this masterpiece of an album. Every song tells its own story, the deeply personal lyrics invite you into dark, sad realms, fractured by moments of pure life, enjoyment and vibrance.
These four musicians share a nearly outworldly understanding of songwriting, pacing and composition, and an impalpable sense for balance between delicate intimacy and tearing down your sky and everything you know into humble pieces of existential reflection. If all that sounds exaggerated, you are simply not there yet. Maybe you never will, but even a glimpse of the feeling Destrier gives to me will make your life significantly better. From ‘Carry me, now more than ever‘ to ‘Cannot close my eyes/Destrier in me‘ this piece of art is the reason music is such an important part of life.
‘There are these rare moments when musicians together touch something sweeter than they’ve ever found before in rehearsals or performance, beyond the merely collaborative or technically proficient, when their expression becomes as easy and graceful as friendship or love. This is when they give us a glimpse of what we might be, of our best selves, and of an impossible world in which you give everything to others, but lose nothing of yourself.‘
–Ian McEwan, Saturday
And that’s all for today! Records like this one, magnificant pieces of craft and emotion, are what lies at the very core of our fascination with this medium, so it’s always a wonderful experience getting to talk about them, even if only for a brief time. What are your thoughts on Destrier, and Agent Fresco in general? Leave them in the comments!
I’ll see you back here in fourteen days for another riveting, long-overdue look back at a beloved classic. Until then, stay safe out there, and as always…
…thanks for reading!