Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Destroyer- Kaputt

You've got to hand it to Dan Bejar. You think he's going to zig, but you know he doesn't do things that way, so then you think he's going to zag, and then it turns out he actually is going to zig, after all. What the hell am I talking about, you ask? As if to prove yet again how unpredictable and obtuse he is, it turned out that the musical direction Bejar (aka Destroyer) took on his 2009 EP, Bay Of Pigs, would also be the one he stuck with for his next album and not something else entirely. Moreover, in between these releases was the primarily ambient collaboration with Loscil and Tim Hecker on last year's Archer On The Beach EP, which further confused matters by NOT being much like either Pigs or the eventual album, Kaputt...though one of the tracks, 'Grief Point', originally had the working title 'Bay Of Pigs.' Whew! All of this is ultimately irrelevant, however, because Kaputt is so damn good, and so damn stylized, that it harkens back to the synth-pop/MIDI-orchestra of Your Blues more than anything else. And it isn't really much like that album at all, other than superficially.

As someone who generally can't stand how 80s music sounds, I hope it's significant that I think Kaputt is going to be on many album of the year lists, including mine. Unlike the nostalgic chill wave/hypnogogic music of bands like Neon Indian, Ariel Pink, and Toro Y Moi, Kaputt fully embraces the sound and aesthetic of early-to-mid 80s music instead of merely embracing the warm glow of your memories of the 80s filtered through drugs and modern electronics. What this means is Kaputt is always swathed in a dreamy fog machine atmosphere, always caught up in a dancefloor reverie straight out of a New Wave dance club, with back up singers, trumpet and saxophone solos, a mid-tempo groove, and impressionistic neon keyboards and synthesizers all over the place. Bejar's lyrics remain as memorable and quotable as ever, though they too evoke the 80s, with the title track painting a picture of “wasting your days, chasing some girls/alright, chasing cocaine/through the back rooms of the world all night.”

Kaputt is as unpredictable a follow-up to the unfocused and singer-songwritery Trouble In Dreams as Your Blues was to its predecessor, the jammy and indulgent This Night. It also ends up being an atmospheric, mood setting album, the sort of record where most of the songs kind of sound the same, and you could easily switch the lyrics between them and it wouldn't matter...yet somehow, this isn't a bad thing. In fact, the “I wrote a song for America” lyrical call out on the title track, and its forming of the basis for the 'Song For America' track, is well within Bejar's usual meta-music wheelhouse. You get the sense that he doesn't consider his songs or lyrics as discrete entities, and that his music is—and always was—about the big picture, the overall feel. Given that the shortened version of 'Bay Of Pigs' on Kaputt is referred to with the subtitle 'Detail', I would even suggest that Bejar is more interested in comparing his work to paintings or literature than anything else. Anyone who has ever flipped through those big coffee table book collections of paintings by, say, Salvador Dali, will know that often the close-ups taken from paintings are referred to as 'Detail of...' Moreover, I could see Bejar referring to a demo as, say, 'Study For Bay Of Pigs' just as artists call sketches for eventual paintings or artwork 'studies.' Similarly, in a press release list of 22 things a listener might want to know to understand the album, Bejar makes as many references to non-musical influences and ideas as he does to musical ones. This includes, tellingly, “[t]he superiority of poetry and plays...”

If Destroyer's last two albums can be described as red wine albums, full of loose 70s classic rock and inspired poetic singer-songwriter-isms, then Kaputt is definitely a white wine (if not specifically a champagne) album. The lengthy instrumental intro to 'Suicide Demo For Kara Walker', complete with flute(!), as well as the other places where the record is content to yield the floor to saxophone and trumpet intros, interludes, and outros, recalls immaculate mid 70s to mid 80s sophisticated pop by, I dunno...Steely Dan. This record is the kind you can put on while cooking dinner, puttering around your apartment, or enjoying a romantic evening with a significant other. I don't mean that as a slight; Kaputt isn't ambient music or only enjoyable while half-heard, though those aforementioned instrumental parts and the easy-listening (also not intended as a slight!) make it just as perfect for close listening as they do for background noise.

Kaputt doesn't sound like the rest of his discography, and it may be a dead end in the same way the style of Your Blues was immediately abandoned after its release. Yet Kaputt is as visionary and satisfying a dead end as that synth-heavy record was, perhaps even more so because of its consistency in both songwriting and the finessed, spot-on playing from all contributors. This album is so good that I certainly hope he's still not serious about retiring from music, as he's been vaguely hinting at for the past couple years, because Kaputt is as fresh and vital a release as we're likely to get from anyone this year. Highly recommended.

(Note: assuming it's not a limited edition print run, like so many of his releases, I would emphatically recommend picking up the vinyl version of Kaputt. It comes with 20ish minutes of bonus material on side C, though strangely it's almost entirely the music of one of the band members, and mostly instrumental, to boot. Coming between 'Song For America' and 'Bay Of Pigs (Detail)' as it does, 'The Laziest River'--which is broken up into discrete sections on the record but not on the digital download included with the vinyl version, because Bejar loves to confuse people—goes even further into instrumental 80s soft-rock reveries than the rest of the album, providing a nice chance to leave the album to, say, run to the store for more wine or move from the couch to the bedroom, depending on if you're alone or not).

5 Poorly Drawn Stars Out Of 5

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