Monday, January 24, 2011

Kaputt, Destroyer (2011)

Last year, Joanna Newsom treated us to the year's best album before February had finished. What a rarity that an album would set the standards for the year's remaining albums. We are so lucky once again. Kaputt, the newest release from Dan Bejar's Destroyer, is the musical equivalent of poetry as sex and music as escape. It isn't surprising that Destroyer would put out such a great album, but it is shocking the album would be this incredible.

I first discovered Destroyer at The New Pornographer's concert as they toured Twin Cinema. Destroyer was the opening band. At that time, I knew nothing of Destroyer. I knew the lead singer was one of the singers in The New Pornographers, but nothing beyond that. During the entire Destroyer performance, Bejar held a bright spot light that he used to blind the audience. I never understood the expression. I found myself more annoyed than entertained. Then, during The New Pornographer's set, Bejar would come and go from the stage. He fancied himself quite the rock star. He would sing his song and leave the stage. Somehow, behavior I would usually find appalling made me seek out some information on Bejar. I was lucky to do my searching around the time Destroyer's Rubies was released in 2006. Destroyer's Rubies is a perfect album along the lines of Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. Not quite a sound for everyone, but poetry set to music.

Dan Bejar isn't one to create songs that you always sing along to. In fact, Bejar can be wordy, long winded, and a bit complex. A strange mix of formal poetry and spoken word. Think Joanna Newsom's lengthy songs and Bob Dylan's voice and style. Bejar warns the listener, on 'Blue Eyes:' "I write poetry for myself." This statement was very true in the past. But, this is quite possibly the first Destroyer album where one will find themselves singing along to lines after only a handful of listens.

Bejar uses the sounds of the late 70s and early 80s on this album. Then mixes a bit of the early 90s throughout. This album isn't meant to sound out of place or comedic. Bejar isn't testing his audience with use of the trumpets and saxophones. With the hushed sounds of the female voice one might expect to experience on a Joni Mitchell album. Instead, Bejar has never been more serious. This is an album paying homage to all the albums Bejar must have loved throughout the years. Bejar set out to make the first Destroyer pop album. I am not suggesting he was fully successful. This album will never be embraced by the masses. It won't be heard on top hit radio. But, as far as Destroyer is concerned, this is very clearly the pop album.

'Suicide Demo for Kara Walker' is a great art piece. Anyone familiar with Kara Walker would immediately recognize the words and phrases used throughout the song. Walker uses very disturbing, in your face images to make one confront racism of the past, present, future, and in yourself. Once, walking through a Walker exhibit, I heard a mid-20s white woman gasp "why does she feel the need to be so over the top about the whole thing?" It seems the exact response Walker would have loved. And, Walker gets to speak to another audience through this song. These lyrics aren't the lyrics of Bejar. Instead, Bejar and Walker worked together on the lyrics. While one could imagine it being a stream of conscious song matching the images Bejar saw while walking through a Walker exhibit, instead Walker created a cut and paste lyric sheet.

It would be impossible to pick a favorite line from the album. There are so many funny moments ("he doesn't see why Mary Jane from down the lane went insane"), moments of honesty ("chasing cocaine through the back rooms of the world all night"), and lyrics of poetry and pain ("a savage night at the opera, another savage night at the club. Let's face it, old souls like us are being born to die").

One could make complaints about the albums dated sounds, or the too complicated and rambling lyrics. One could find irritation in Bejar's nasal delivery of the songs. But, one would be wasting their time on the criticism. The chance of any album this year being as ambitious and fully realized is pretty slim.


No comments:

Post a Comment