Destroyer – Kaputt (Merge)
Kaputt means broken, or even destroyed. In the run up to the album’s release, Bejar released a list of things he deemed relevant to its creation. Two of those things were “the hopelessness of the future of music” and “the pointlessness of writing songs for today”. We can use these statements as clues to unravel the secret of Destroyer’s supposedly strange new musical turn. And what is this strange new musical turn? On Kaputt, Bejar has embraced a languid, lite-jazz approach. Much has been made of the influence of late-period Roxy Music, but the songs, at least structure-wise, seem mostly to be in the Destroyer tradition. The occasional New Order influence seeps through, as does the random appearance of a bass-line that could have been lifted from ‘Lovely Day’ by Bill Withers, and the ambiance of Eno is a presence but, other than that, no particular musical influence leaps out. What seems more apparent is that Bejar has become disenchanted with the ‘indie’ approach and has attempted to provide his songs with, of all things, a professional sheen. Bejar’s singing is more controlled, more nuanced, somehow less jarring. Saxophones murmur sadly in the background, as if the studio were being haunted by the ghost of David Sanborn. (Yes, I know David Sanborn isn’t dead. Who’s writing this review?) Female vocalists chime in, though this being Destroyer they get to sing things like “Animals crawl towards death’s embrace”.
So what have these facts to do with the hopelessness and pointlessness mentioned above? I view Bejar’s professionalism to be a reaction to the feeling of hopelessness. This is no lunge at mainstream acceptance a la Terror Twilight [Pavement] or Do The Collapse [Guided By Voices] and as such is not the colossal failure that both of those records were. Kaputt seems more like a refinement but also a shifting of priorities. Knowing that it is foolish to attempt to alter one’s songwriting in an attempt to receive some sales-based validation, Bejar has instead looked to an increased sense of musicianship and sonic sophistication to chase away the demons of despondency. All of this being the case, one important question remains to be asked. Does it work?
I can answer that question with a resounding yes. Granted, I don’t think Destroyer are capable of releasing a bad album, but this one is already vying for a place in my top three. Bejar, as it seems was his intent, has turned his hopelessness into a defiant romanticism. The songs may be peppered with enough inscrutably enigmatic females to merit some Cohen comparisons, but Bejar is no beautiful loser. He’s too caustic and knowing for that label. That said, his lyrics, while losing nothing of their brilliance, have more of an approachable, less impenetrable feel. This is Destroyer, though, so that still means you won’t really have a clue what’s going on at any particular time. It’s just that, when he sings “Sounds, Smash Hits, Melody Maker, NME, all sound like a dream to me” on the title track, you feel like Bejar is allowing sentiment into his songs like never before yet not in some trite, unrefined way. Those British music magazines probably looked exotic to the young Bejar and talked of a world that would have seemed all but unreachable.
The album opens with ‘Chinatown’, and Bejar is too much of a culture junky for it not be an allusion to Polanski’s neo-noir masterpiece. His purpose is not to invoke the actual movie as some pointless pop-culture reference but more to invoke the movie’s dark undercurrent. “I can’t walk away, you can’t walk away” is the song’s main refrain, and these lyrics do a good job of summing up the thread of trapped romanticism that runs through the entire album. In order to create romance and excitement in his life, Bejar has cast himself as the star in his very own film-noir creation and called it Kaputt.
‘Savage Night At The Opera’ glides along like some outtake from Another Green World [Brian Eno] played by New Order. (Yes, I know New Order didn’t exist when Another Green World came out. Just indulge me while I play the music reviewer association game.) ‘Suicide Demo For Kara Walker’, with cut-up lyrics provided by visual artist Kara Walker, comes off as some mournful exploration of the state of the Union. Suddenly America itself is trapped, unable to escape from its past, from its broken promises. “Words, words, words … Longings, longings, longings … All in vain.” All in vain, but still he endures. I told you Bejar was a romantic. -> -> ->