Category: Destroyer

Destroyer at the Troubadour: There will still be funk at the end of the world

Destroyer

If anyone can get away with using a lyric sheet during a live performance, it’s Destroyer’s Dan Bejar. Building his involved lyrics from dream snatches, baroque spirals of internal thought, references to Vancouver, Canada districts, directives to the press (“Don’t be ashamed or disgusted with yourselves”) and exasperation with a vexing girl named Christine, Bejar spent most of his show at the Troubadour on Tuesday with his eyes closed, seemingly in deep recall. When not doing that, he simply whipped out a sheet of paper and sang the lines.

By either method, it was a transfixing show, one that was almost totally devoted to the Canadian artist’s latest album, “Kaputt,” a heady wash of blown-out '80s sax, meditation-soft keys, hot-and-bothered backup vocalists and Bejar’s own highly idiosyncratic singing, a strange jumble of precision and chill.

Playing with a seven-piece band that included saxophone and trumpet, the show might have been disappointing to those who were hoping for deep cuts from Destroyer’s estimable catalog, especially his splendorous romp “Destroyer’s Rubies.” The two songs that Bejar did play off his 2006 breakthrough, however, were some of the best of the show. “Painter in Your Pocket” was its usual shambling self, but treated with the kind of frizzled '80s minimalism found on “Kaputt.” For style junkies like Bejar, mash-ups and other forms have made the whole history of pop music seem like a spilled jewel bag for thieves: Any style is fair game to grift, so long as you spend it well. Unlike your usual mash-up artist, Bejar’s work is not about exposing the seams of that appropriation but about smoothly incorporating it as part of his own.

It’s a heavy mission to accomplish, that streamlining of everything that’s caught your ear, and sometimes during the show, it seemed that some of the songs might disassemble even as they were being played. It was thrilling to keep an eye out for what seemed like possible wreckage at any moment. “Song for America,” a sexy strut of sax and longing poetry, all fried in a big, buttery pan of fretless bass, tossed back and forth between funk and destruction. No side ever won. For a band named Destroyer, funk and destruction, like the notions of death and rebirth, might be part of the same blessed mess.

-- Margaret Wappler

Photo credit: Ted Bois

Album review: Destroyer's 'Kaputt'

Destroyer 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

Destroyer
'Kaputt'
Merge
Three and a half stars

Advertisement
Connect

Recommended on Facebook



In Case You Missed It...

Video



Recent Posts


Tweets and retweets from L.A. Times staff writers.

Categories


Archives
 



Get Alerts on Your Mobile Phone

Sign me up for the following lists: