Destroyer | Kaputt
Most Likely To: pass out on the street by the discotheque at 3 A.M. with a sherry stain on his frilly white shirt.
In a fantastic interview with Pitchfork, Dan Bejar a.k.a. Destroyer makes a number of fascinating revelations about the songwriting process behind Kaputt, but perhaps the most telling is that most of the vocals were recorded “while fixing myself a sandwich,” or “while I was, like, lying down on the couch.” Like, lying down on the couch indeed. The lyric sheet for Kaputt’s nine songs reads like the mutterings of a half-crazy poet as he drifts drunkenly into his afternoon nap, the smell of brandy thick on his breath. And I mean this in the best possible way.
Their seeming absent-mindedness lends the lyrics an impressionistic quality, accumulating a great deal of mood (across multiple songs as well as within individual ones) and hinting at narrative but never quite coalescing into something concrete. Words collect like clouds into pretty little phrases that drift together but never really click. “Dream-sequence music,” Ryan Dombal astutely calls it in that same interview.
The sonic stylings of the arrangements only reaffirm this wonderful, woozy languor. It’s new terrain for Bejar, but fans of Destroyer know he’s no stranger to stylistic switch-ups. The key reference points, as it has been commonly pointed out, are 1970s and ’80s soft rock and disco, but it sounds like an impression of that music only foggily remembered (or, perhaps, dreamed about) and updated with electronic flourishes. The instruments — slinky disco guitar, drums that sound halfway between live and programmed, soft synth beds and, most memorably, spiraling lines of echoey trumpet and saxophone — are played with a loose, almost jammy sensibility but assembled and mastered with subtle precision.
“Chinatown” is as good an opener as this record could ask for. As it begins, electronic doodles are quickly snapped to attention by a metronomic snare, before a full, lush soundscape settles in: a twinkling synth line, soft bass, bright acoustic guitar, snatches of echoing trumpet. Its composed, sophisticated vibe means it really could soundtrack a walking-around-the-city-at-night sequence quite effectively, however often such things are said in music reviews. It is a nearly perfect entry point to an engaging, immersive album experience.
“Suicide Demo for Kara Walker” may be the most stunning track on Kaputt. A sprightly disco beat settles in after a pretty, no-tempo intro (now with flute!) that lasts for two and a half minutes. It morphs and unfolds with delicate grace, flirting with moments that could kill on a dancefloor given a bit more umph, but always backing off so as not to disturb the gentle fabric of the record as a whole.
It’s the title track, though, that best acts as this album’s mission statement. “All sounds like a dream to me,” Bejar says outright, as well as “chasing cocaine through the back rooms of the world all night,” which is a killer line and a pretty evocative description of Kaputt. As on previous Destroyer albums, Bejar throws in some self-reference (here, “I wrote a song for America,” anticipates track eight, entitled, you guessed it, “Song for America”), but one gets the sense that on this album, more vague lyrical hints would lead to dead ends and wild goose chases. You’re better off chasing cocaine through back rooms.
“Sort of a keyboard demo vibe” was something I wrote down unthinkingly while listening to “Blue Eyes”. I stand by that, but how to reconcile it with the notion of music anyone would actually want to listen to? Well, when the musical technologies of a bygone era are integrated into the fabric of pop songs with such finesse as they are here, it can conjure a real tenderness; warm but slightly bittersweet.
Bejar’s certainly not the first to achieve this; over the past few years, the ability of outmoded sounds (’70s and ’80s cheese, video game music, lo-fi haze) to conjure feelings of nostalgia and memory has become the lynchpin of a staggering amount of indie music. But on Kaputt, he does it with that trademark eccentricity that has consistently made Destroyer’s music so hard to classify. He possesses the combination of sincerity and wit to give musical and lyrical camp real emotional weight, and he’s rarely done so as finely as he does here on Kaputt.
Listen to “Chinatown” from Destroyer: