In 2009, Destroyer released the single Bay of Pigs. The atmospheric and deeply introspective 13+ minute track displayed the Destroyer hallmarks: strangely amelodic & lackadaisical delivery of cryptic poetry combined with diverse and bizarre instrumentation. But, Bay of Pigs seemed to have something more: the meandering lyrics, midi-synths, and particular level of compositional restraint suggested an innovative direction for Destroyer. That innovation blossoms on the new record Kaputt, probably this unit’s best output thus far. I hesitate to say the album defines the band (despite the title of this review), but it does seem to reveal the creative and emotional core of Destroyer.
This record is immersive and wonderfully bleak & wistful, with melodies carried by saxophone, trumpet, flute, and, to a lesser extent, guitar and synthesizer. Synthesizers provide copious atmosphere and fills, with guitars providing mostly background rhythm. The album has a mellow 70s AM-radio feel to it; I have found it a perfect accompaniment for bleary winter days, and it actually sounds promising and optimistic in that context.
The lyrical content is diverse and engaging, including ruminations on the futility of song writing, disregard and contempt for music industry biz, and despondency & loneliness in modern society. Bejar offers some interesting observations on his critics: the non-defensive, “I write poetry for myself” (from Blue Eyes); the cheeky, “I wrote a song for America; they told me it was clever” (from Song for America); “I heard someone said it before; I don’t care”, presumably with regard to his habit of borrowing phrases from other artists (from Chinatown); and the mildly encouraging admonition, “I sent a message in a bottle to the press; it said don’t be ashamed or disgusted with yourselves; I’ve thumbed through the books on your shelves” (from Blue Eyes). Savage Night at the Opera is a relatively upbeat rebuke of music industry practices and the barriers they create to the realization of music as art. This theme also appears in Kaputt, with the lyric, “Sounds, Smash Hits, Melody Maker, NME, all sound like a dream to me” – an apparent disregard for music criticism and analysis. Beginning with what sounds like a dirge, Suicide Demo for Kara Walker is a moving and empathetic description of persistent “feminine grace” in the face of spiteful social pressures, imbuing metaphysical hope, “enter through the exit, and exit through the entrance”, and repeating the lament “what passes for love these days”.
The music on Kaputt falls somewhere between the alt-structured pop music of The New Pornographers and the eccentric sounds of Swan Lake (w/ members of Frog Eyes and Wolf Parade). If pressed to classify the genre, I’d be tempted to say it’s nu-gaze, with heavy use of effects and non-confrontational, introspective presentation, but that label seems dismissive and inadequate. I have friends that have found Destroyer’s music too outlandish and lyric’s too difficult to warrant much consideration. I think this album will win them over.
Destroyer – Chinatown [mp3]
Watch: Destroyer – Kaputt
Pre-order: Destroyer – Kaputt (Merge Records)
available January 25, 2011