Music Feature

Review: Destroyer - 'Kaputt'

by Bill Chenevert
Dan Bejar takes us on a sexy, groovy trip through the '80s
Dan Bejar is productive. He started Destroyer as a solo project in Vancouver about fifteen years ago. Since then he's worked with The New Pornographers, Swan Lake, Loscil, JC/DC and Hello, Blue Roses. It's a bizarre little assortment of bands that sound vaguely related, but not terribly similar, to the music Bejar creates for Destroyer. With his newest LP, his ninth (out on Merge January 25th), Bejar goes a little bit disco and a little lounge jazz. He's always been quite literary and intellectual, and he certainly doesn't disappoint here, but the combination of his smart lyrics and the obliquely cheesy retro-grooves is a brilliant blend that feels fresh. He takes elements of dreamy, esoteric instrumentation from muted horns and distant, bubbly synth parts, then drags his sensual, almost slurred rambles over them. And they're always damn near brilliant, bringing a smile to your face with his sense of romance, his sense of music in 2011, and a wry sense of humor.

In a near-absured press release, Bejar lists 22 things that might illuminate what he's doing with the record. Here's a little sampling: "Chinatown, the neighborhood bordering on Bejar's… Baby blue eyes… 80s Miles Davis… 90s Gil Evans… Last Tango in Paris… Nic Bragg, who played lead guitar on every song, again… Fretless bass… The hopelessness of the future of music… The pointlessness of writing songs for today…" Boy, is that perplexing. But the same could be said of his wandering, shoegazey tracks on Kaputt. The third track, "Savage Night at the Opera," is a hushed and whispery '80s throwback that smacks of Bow Wow Wow. With its dark and bass-heavy churns, he mumbles "I heard your record it's alright." There's a malaise here that's palpable but not discouraging or disenchanting. Somehow his attitude is ours, yours, mine. Why make music or write poetry? For yourself, might be the only reasonable answer, and so he seems to have unveiled a new era in the Destroyer sound book. One that's a little disconnected with success or critical reception; he's more focused on turning sounds on their heads, articulating artistic conflict and striving to lend a melody to his charming poetry.

The surprising eight-minute "Suicide Demo for Kara Walker" starts off with a two-plus minute soft jazz intro (heavy jazz flute is present) before a tame euro-disco beats kicks in. Here he uses a lovely female vocal as a wah-wah guitar bounces up and down, and distant french horns moan. Sounds corny, doesn't it. Well, imagine if Syd Barrett worked with Steely Dan, or, just to create a sound, if DeVotchka and Jefferson Starship jammed together. It WORKS. There are certainly dated genres infiltrating their way into indie rock these days: surf rock, '80s synths, '90s house, etc. And some bands absolutely nail it - like Best Coast's California stoner utopia or Hercules and Love Affair's '90s interpretations. The things is, it doesn't seem like Dan Bejar is trying to take the '80s sound and make it into something new. The man was eight years old in 1980, he's allowed to riff off of the sounds he came to adulthood with. Sure, the airy sax sometimes feels like a bedroom soundtrack, but maybe he's just taking those sounds, confronting you with your assumptions about their use, and saying 'Bet you didn't think it could be turned into something like this.' You were right, sir. (Merge)

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