The first time I listened to Kaputt, I was on an airplane. About three songs in, I realized the person next to me was trying to get my attention. I took out my left earbud.
“What are you listening to?”
What a generic question. I love answering that question.
“Destroyer’s new album.”
“Oh really? I didn’t peg you as the heavy metal sort.”
“What? It’s Dan Bejar.”
“This guy with the really dramatic, rambling songs. He’s kind of like David Bowie, but more exciting and with a better vocabulary.”
“Oh yeah okay. Sorry I just assumed that the name ‘Destroyer’ would belong to a hardcore band or something.”
I smiled and put my earbud back in, restarting the track because that awkward conversation sort of drowned out the greater part of “Savage Night at the Opera.” At that exact moment I realized Destroyer’s greatest quality. His pseudonym, like his music is gorgeously irrelevant. My flight companion was right, Destroyer sounds like a hardcore band: but how odd is it then that Kaputt is fifty minutes of honest ‘80s soft rock and new wave under Dan Bejar’s absent minded musings? Very. The new album is Bejars most gorgeously irrelevant creation yet.
Kaputt is a perfect choice for plane music. Each song has very similar make-up: the production is lofty, ambient synths that
become a layer of clouds which Bejar lounges on, flits in and out of, and manipulates, and the ever-present languid saxophone sharply cuts into the atmospheric mix and then slithers back out. The songwriting is eccentric enough to transport the listener away from 12 hours in a cramped seat, into some oddball romantic dream, and the mix is deep enough to keep him or her there.
On first listen, the instrumentals sound cheesy, almost comical. Bejar’s songwriting could easily be switched out with a commercial for a Pleasure phone line. After multiple listens however, it becomes apparent that Destroyer is dead serious. The seemingly ironic sax solos are actually just Bejar expressing his wistful genius when words fall short.
But on Kaputt, words never seem to fall short. Bejar rambles out line after line of cryptic musings. He is clearly telling some sort of stories but lines like “the wind and the rain to your detriment/ you try to explain a government swallowed up in the squall” aren’t giving any hints. This open-to-interpretation style lyricism is unique to anything I’ve heard thus far, but the eccentricity of the words calls back to Stephen Malkmus or even David Bowie. What sets Bejar apart from these songwriters, and even from his previous work, is his delivery. In a recent interview with Pitchfork, Bejar said he recorded most of the vocals on the album while preparing a sandwich or lying on a couch. I’m not sure if he was kidding but the vox have a certain absence to them that definitely sounds like the outcome of that absurd recording process.
The album’s biggest flaw is that some tracks pale in comparison to others. None of the tracks are by any means bad, (I’d say the album could not exist without a single one of the songs), but “Poor in Love” is a bit stale compared to, say, “Kaputt” a song about “chasing cocaine to the backrooms of the world.”
It is difficult to pick a highlight, but the album closer “Bay of Pigs,” is the song that constantly impresses me on every listen. “Listen,” intones Bejar after minutes of waves of ambience and arpeggiating keys, “I’ve been drinking.” Then he proceeds to dive into an eleven minute venting session, arguing with himself, mentioning specific women’s names and the apocalypse, and uttering the line “love is a political beast with jaws for a mouth/ I don’t care!” All of this weaving through an instrumental that morphs and mutates as quickly as Bejar’s thought process.
Overall, Kaputt is shrouded in one mind-boggling question: is Destroyer sharing his insane genius with us or is he slyly using us as his therapist? Either way, the album is an intricate escape from reality, into the head of one our generation’s most anomalous genius.