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 Wallace Wylie

Destroyer – Kaputt (Merge)

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Kaputt closes with ‘Bay Of Pigs (detail)’ and, at over 11 minutes long, it is the album’s most ambitious piece of work. The influence of Eno is apparent in the first four-and-a-half minutes as the song slowly unfolds in waves of electronic noise. Then suddenly it becomes almost a dance song, only to transform itself again within a few minutes into a frenetic acoustic strum. It all holds together brilliantly, as Bejar’s lyrics weave their typical poetic spell. It’s a triumphant end to an altogether brilliant album, an album that has seen Destroyer move up a notch in the hearts of North America’s indie fraternity. Always respected but always on the sidelines, Destroyer’s current 80s vibe has found a home at Pitchfork.

The reason why 80s music is still revered at Pitchfork and elsewhere would take too long to explain but, boiled down to its essentials, the 80s remain a benchmark for ‘cool’ because: a) the indie ironic persona devours bad taste, and the 80s excelled at bad taste; b) ’80s music is still embraced as a rebellion against 60s and 70s music and any criticism of the 80s is assumed to be from a 60s classicist point of view; and c) no great musical event has occurred to help draw the line between 80s music and what came after in the way punk did with 70s music.

So Destroyer’s lite-jazz approach will be seen by many as a brilliant conceptual coup, one more ironic indie embrace of a previously discredited musical genre. As far as I can see, nothing could be further from the truth. Bejar appears to have been listening to Avalon-era Roxy Music and Brian Eno and decided to create something along similar lines. In other words his new musical direction seems completely sincere. The only irony then is that this new approach has won him so much critical approval from indie taste-makers. Bejar’s lyrics are typically filled with so many barbed critiques of the music industry (though not so much on Kaputt) that it’s hard to imagine what kind of payoff Bejar wants from any particular album release.

Is approval from an industry that you despise a good thing? Make no mistake, Pitchfork are one of the most powerful forces in the music industry right now, capable of turning a band with little to no fans into big venue headliners in a matter of weeks, then sending them right back again when they’re done (witness Tapes ‘n Tapes). What represents success in such an environment? No wonder Bejar feels hopeless. Yet he perseveres and even finds romance in his struggle. He is that rare beast in these times, a true artist. One who also knows how much bullshit is attached to terms like ‘true artist’. And what does an artist do in tough times? Creates.

Kaputt is a dark city with no easy escape routes. Washed-out horns blow sorrowfully into the night. In a bar in Chinatown, with broken neon buzzing from its OPEN sign, sits a kind-hearted but cynical survivor. If you buy him a shot he’ll tell you some cryptic stories of how things work around these parts. His name is Dan Bejar. Pull up a chair, kid. You’re in for a long, entertaining night.

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