Destroyer is unpredictable. From The New Pornos’ pop to Dan Bejar’s work as a solo artist, which flirts with and disregards indie predilections with a sort of chaotic panache, Bejar’s music is like the lemon perched on your glass of water at a new restaurant. You didn’t know, ask for or expect it. And it’s a little fruity.
Kaputt is Destroyer’s ninth and fruitiest LP yet. Following 2009’s Bay of Pigs and 2010’s Archer on the Beach EP’s ambient diary-turned-disco, Kaputt flaunts sultry saxophone, funky fretless bass and 4/4 beats without irony. Acoustic guitars and keyboards give way to muted trumpets and flute, smoothly gazing two-chords-and-reverb — Kenny G was cool.
Chillwave this is not. Bejar’s painting in hip colors with Kaputt, but he transcends gimmick. “Chinatown” and “Kaputt,” two of his most accessible tunes ever, don’t hide behind gauze; they’re not afraid of every piece, note and riff standing in spit-shine spotlight. Fellow Vancouverite Sibel Thrasher plays back-up vocalist to Bejar’s sexy, theatrical free-verse, and she’s really singing — chilly white-soul like D.D. Jackson or any number of disco divas lost in time.
So while Destroyer’s Bowie-Bryan Ferry-Coke-Gil Evans-Lindstrøm makeover is cool, it’s looking forward. Here, Bejar’s melodies are given the space and groove his older work seldom had. Where manic-pop used to be, deliberate, widescreen-but-intimate jams have moved in, with room to breathe.
And where past Destroyer had Bejar breathing heavy, here he’s relaxed. His voice, which for some may be a hurdle (get over it), resembles something between a French Revolution re-enactor and pillow talk. On Kaputt, he forgoes his old verbosity for impressionism.
But like the best disco, the voice is more than just another instrument. Destroyer’s lyrics have often been a sort of catch-all abstraction, capable of disorientation and directness all at once. Kaputt gives those words a new space, a looser but definite focus. In a recent interview, Bejar claimed to have recorded most of the vocals “while fixing … a sandwich,” which sounds about right. Pair it with a couple of gin and tonics, Thrasher’s pipes and arguably the real vocalist of the album — JP Carter’s trumpet solos — Kaputt has plenty to say.
But dissecting the lyrics would need another review. Overall, the music speaks for itself. “Blue Eyes” gazes, grooves and rips in equal measure. “Savage Night at the Opera” rides out a New Order bass pump, unafraid of a nasty little guitar solo to cry all over the songs’ new-age climb. The title track and “Suicide Demo For Kara Walker” are perfect songs for looking out of car windows, airplane windows, getting fucked up. And if all of Kaputt sounds samey to you, you’re right. But it’s like a 50-minute tone-poem with enough detail, purpose and sprawl to make every listen different. By the time you get to the album-closing “Bay of Pigs,” you’ve been places.
So, Destroyer’s breaking ground and it’s transportative stuff. It’s not for everyone, which is fine. Unpredictable as ever, Kaputt makes it clear that Destroyer is anything but normal.