All Sounds Like a Dream: A Review of Destroyer’s Kaputt

Destoyer - Kaputt

The time has come for devoted fans to admit: Destroyer is never going to make it big.  The band’s mastermind, Dan Bejar, has been churning out records under the Destoyer moniker since 1996 (when you were either in high school or college), and yet you’ve likely never heard one of his songs.  In fact, if you have heard of Bejar at all, it is likely through his role in The New Pornographers, a pleasant yet car-commercial-friendly side project in which he is at best an ancillary member.  And so, when I tell you that Destroyer is the best band in the world today, you will likely shrug off my hyperbole with indifference.

Bejar is aware of this reality, and the abdication of his dreams of greatness informs the title of his latest LP Kaputt.  From the Tolstoy-citing Bowie-pop of his debut We’ll Build Them a Golden Bridge to the unabashed glory of 2006’s sadly dismissed masterpiece Destroyer’s Rubies, Bejar has perfected pop music for the port-drinking, beard-stroking, hyphen-loving listener.  Yet despite the perfection of his craft, he finds himself nearing 40, with 10 full-length records in the bag, his hopes of universal acclaim Kaputt.   Rather than succumb to defeat, however, Bejar has crafted a record of resignation and acceptance, a record of youth departed and depravity forsaken, a record in the grand tradition of Pink Moon and Automatic for the People, that may finally bring him the dutiful praise he deserves.

Of course, don’t expect Kaputt to sound anything like those estimable LPs.  Much will be made of the 1980s lounge/lite-FM sound that suffuses the record, a sound rejuvenated last year by the likes of Gayngs and Ariel Pink.  Bejar goes a step further than those irony-drenched groups, however, by augmenting this familiar style with 21st-century electronics, free-jazz horn squalls, and searing guitar lines.  From album opener “Chinatown” through early highlight “Savage Night at the Opera,” Bejar intones the pains of maturation (“You’ll never guess what I’ve seen/A life abandoned midstream”) over propulsive beats and underwater bass:

Destroyer – “Savage Night at the Opera”

While the album’s opening tracks seem to resist accepting that the songwriter’s salad days have passed (Chinatown’s “I can’t walk away,” Blue Eyes’ “I won’t and I never will”), by the album’s center the tide seems to have turned.  “Poor in Love” suggests that perhaps there is more to life than love and wealth, while the record’s title track reflects that the era of drug-fueled sexual conquest central to any rock star’s existence “All sounds like a dream to me:”

Destroyer – “Poor In Love”

Destroyer – “Kaputt”

Despite all the excellence that precedes it, however, the song that is likely to get the most attention is the 11-minute album-closing epic “Bay Of Pigs,” a song that was in fact released independently some 17 months ago.  While it has been noted the song’s sonic textures stand apart from the lite-rock bent of the rest of the record, lyrically it stands as a beautiful summation of the records themes.  Bejar sings “I was inside the sea’s guts/a crumbling beauty trapped in ice/a crumbling beauty in Paradise,” and we are reminded of the artist’s youth lost; Bejar sings “I suppose this is the kind of thing we see every day/The tide comes in/The tide goes away,” and we are reminded of the universality of this loss.  Kaputt indeed.

Destroyer – Bay Of Pigs

Dan Bejar has always been a stylist (indeed, a woman pulls him aside in “Poor In Love” to say “You’ve got style/All you’ve got is style”), and as a consequence the substance of his records has often been ignored.  At times this approach has been deserved, but on Kaputt he has crafted a song-cycle of change, loss, and acceptance that stands out for its decided lack of frivolity.  Whether the record will ultimately be seen as 80’s-tribute novelty record or an eccentric masterpiece, only time will tell.  But, one thing is for certain: after 16 years and over 100 songs , Destroyer is anything but Kaputt.

L.V. Lopez is co-editor of Frontier Psychiatrist.  He recently reviewed James Blake’s debut LP and penned a tribute to Trish Keenan of Broadcast.  His youth remains in full swing.

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