Destroyer – Kaputt

January 01, 1970



On stage, fronting Destroyer or with the New Pornographers, Dan Bejar
can seem like a drunken mad genius or a crazed, irresistible streetcorner prophet,
ranting non-stop. He’s word-drunk, writing songs drenched in meta-textual
jokes, sly allusions and ironic asides. His weird, dense songs can make you
dizzy, if not drunk (with or without the help of that Destroyer drinking game).


Although Destroyer is a shape-shifting project, glam-era David Bowie
has been a common touchstone. However, for Kaputt, Destroyer’s ninth,
Bejar makes a lateral move to Bryan Ferry as the reference point – but not glam
/ early Roxy Music Ferry. As he writes in the Kaputt‘s list of “some of
the things alluded to or avoided in the album”: “Avalon and, more
specifically, Boys and Girls” (that’s Ferry’s 1985 hit that spawned
“Slave to Love”). He and his cohorts, including longtime producers John Collins
and David Carswell and lead guitarist Nicolas Bragg, craft a slickly elegant
sound indebted to late ‘70s / early ‘80s bands like Steely Dan, Prefab Sprout
and the Blue Nile. Everything’s awash in
undulating synths, fretless bass, horn solos drenched in reverb, and post-disco
rhythms, often programmed. It’s all very pretty, very accessible, very elegant,
very quiet storm (and smooth jazz and ambient-styles that are the antipodes of
rock and roll). And very surprising on a Destroyer album.


And it works marvelously. Bejar isn’t ranting this time; he’s
murmuring, singing – aided by Sibel Thrasher’s sweet harmony vocals – and
seducing, even while he’s criticizing. He has pared his lyrics for most of
these songs, although they’re still full of cryptic non sequiturs that may or
may not cohere into meaning. “I write poetry for myself,” he sings on “Blue
Eyes,” and only Bejar knows for sure what each line means. Certain themes
recur, most of them involving dissolution: of America, of a cocaine-fueled
playboy, of “what passes for love these days,” of the meanings of songs
themselves (that meta-thing again). But Kaputt is the first Destroyer
one could put on and enjoy without working to follow the lyrics. It’s a
compliment to say that it can be enjoyed passively as well as actively.


Of course, active listening adds to the pleasure, and Kaputt has many songs that could appear on a Destroyer’s Best album. The two
epics, “Bay of Pigs” (which appeared in
slightly different form in 2009) and “Suicide Demo for Kara Walker” (written
with political artist Kara Walker), are prime candidates (even though they’d
take up nearly 20 minutes of the album), but so are the succinct “Poor in Love”
and “Savage Night at the Opera.” Best to think of Kaputt as its own
hermetic world. It’s weirdly familiar: weird because the smooth jazz signifiers
are familiar, and familiar because Destroyer relishes playing with weirdness. 


DOWNLOAD: “Poor in Love,” “Suicide Demo for Kara

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