Another departure for Dan Bejar
Always a cagey artist, Dan Bejar sheds his skin seemingly with every song. His previous album, Trouble in Dreams, was his indie rock record, full of scabrous guitar riffs and churning grooves; before that, he did ornate chamber pop on Rubies; before that, dreamy MIDI-fied synthscapes on Your Blues. He’s a chameleon who changes color to suit a background that only he sees, which means his latest, Kaputt, is a typical Destroyer album only in that it sounds so little like previous Destroyer albums.
These songs find inspiration in a musical moment decades in the past, when noir lite jazz offered the world processed drums, sculpted synths, fretless bass, gauche backing vocals, and smooth sax, all set to languid tempos and deceptively laidback songwriting. Think Chuck Mangione or Steely Dan or—because Bejar has the benefit of 30 years’ hindsight—Martin Hannett doing easy listening. He’s not being ironic; despite the low standing this music has had critically, Kaputt is not bracketed by quote marks. In fact, it’s generously lush, the sonics fitting his stage-whisper vocals beautifully. “It all sounds like a dream to me,” he sings on the title track, and sure enough, the music brings the sentiment to life as a guitar and a reverbed trumpet dance languidly around each other.
In some ways, the music extends from the lyrics as a form of music criticism—a means of assessing the current musical landscape by finding the most extreme contrast possible. “Your first love’s New Order, ‘Mother Nature’s Son’,” he sings on “Blue Eyes,” before delivering a dismissal whose faint praise is stinging: “I’ve heard your record and it’s alright.” He delivers that line over a watery Joy Division bassline, so it’s not hard to think up a few targets he might be addressing. By contrast, he says, “I write poetry for myself, I write poetry for myself”—a comment that warrants repetition. Only Bejar knows the logic behind his musical metamorphoses, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy an album as smart and as beguiling as Kaputt.