It’s simultaneously pleasant and yet a bit boring to live in an age where an artist can explore a different musical genre and be forgiven, even extolled, for it. What must it have been like to live in the days when Dylan fans were polarized over his sudden electric effrontery, or to more aurally attuned in the early 90s when U2 up and decided it wanted to become a dance house band. But no, it’s 2011 and if Dan Bejar, poet laureate of indie-rock, the man behind Destroyer, wants to make a full album of apparently 80s-inspired soft rock, with bits that border on jazzercise, that’s cool.
But in the end, it’s hooray for the ho-hummers because Destroyer’s Kaputt is a kaleidoscopic mix of sound and songwriting that makes an airtight case for evolution. And whilst it pays homage to 80s outfits from New Order to Dire Straits to later Roxy Music, Kaputt would not have been completely at home in that decade. It’s far more wry and self-aware, without being self-conscious.
It’s tough to talk about Kaputt without referencing Bejar’s earlier wide-ranging work, but that does not mean it isn’t strong enough to stand on its own. If you picked up Kaputt without hearing any previous Destroyer albums, these nine songs would still lure you into Bejar’s labyrinth. Because so much has been made of the smooth jazz, synths, easy listening and ambient influences that pervade the album, it might be easy to get the impression that Kaputt isn’t as poetically prodigious as say, We’ll Build Them a Golden Bridge. For me, the influx of instrumentation, combined with clever, repetitive phrasing, actually serves to elevate the stories. Let’s face it; you wouldn’t listen to Kaputt for the music alone; the real satisfaction ultimately still comes from the worlds Bejar can craft with words.
People have talked about this album’s acute accessibility, but that doesn’t take away from its lyrical complexity. The songs, relatable, yet replete with recondite references, move from longing (‘Poor In Love’) to social commentary (‘Suicide Demo For Kara Walker’) to melancholy and mysterious stories (‘Chinatown’). The last tune, ‘Bay Of Pigs’, is a 13-minute masterpiece of texture, complimented by the delicate vocals of Bejar’s fellow Canadian Sibel Thrasher, who also appears on several other tracks.
Bejar’s slightly sly voice rings clearly and smoothly through the woodwinds, horns, pianos and percussion. He sounds confident, but not insistent that you listen to him. After all, as he proclaims in the second song, ‘Blue Eyes’, “I write poetry for myself.”
Released on June 13th 2011 by Dead Oceans