Album review: Destroyer's 'Kaputt'
Vancouver, Canada’s Dan Bejar, the occasional member of the New Pornographers, has been crafting adventurous solo albums with various musicians under the heavy metal-like moniker Destroyer since the '90s. On “Kaputt,” his ninth outing, Bejar has made one of his most unique documents yet, rifling through abandoned musical lexicons with the curiosity of a junk-shop dealer who believes that with the right arrangement, any beaten treasure can shine.
For “Kaputt,” Bejar has reclaimed a particularly maligned set of musical hallmarks from '80s soft rock and jazz pap, the kind that streamed out at the dentist’s office from speakers tucked near the Bob Ross-like painting. Think creamy synth settings plucked from New Age meditation tapes, squiggly saxophone lines floating high in the sky of Destroyer’s airy compositions, and Bejar’s own stumbling-around-the-kitchen vocals, at times poetic, at times reveling in the random. It’s as velvety as Roxy Music’s “Avalon” but made from scraps, a pop album for Ariel Pink fans and other radio vultures picking apart the carcass of rock and roll. But it's not zombie art; “Kaputt” has brains, as evidenced by the silken strut of “Suicide Demo for Kara Walker,” a cut-up built from text sent to him by the African American artist that touches on the same issues of race and feminism present in her visual work.
There are other influences on “Kaputt” -- some Cure-like cold bass on “Savage Night at the Opera,” the overheated backup singers on “Blue Eyes” and Spanish guitar from Nic Bragg on the refractive “Bay of Pigs” -- but it all melds together under the big tent of Bejar’s musical imagination. When there’s such a vast palette of noises represented, it questions the very ideas of good and bad, and how much they are tempered by context, trends and generational bias.
For those who were fully functioning adults in the '80s, some of these songs might bring back bad memories of Kenny G commercials on TV. For those who were still kids or barely in existence, these sounds still hold some sort of exotic quality, the lost, sentimental history of crappy radio. At their worst, the songs can suffer from a strange inertia, stillborn in their own lathery bath.
Either way, Bejar doesn’t want the listener to get too bothered by it. After all, he has said that he recorded some of these vocals while lying on the couch or preparing a sandwich. On “Bay of Pigs,” he bastardizes a Duke Ellington title, murmuring over Deep Thoughts synths, “It don’t mean a thing, it never means a thing, it’s called that swing.” “Kaputt” is hallucinatory and unstructured, grabbing for whatever it likes in the moment -- it’s the radio of Bejar’s mind, floating off to sleep.
-- Margaret Wappler
Three and a half stars