Dan Bejar, the lead man behind the Destroyer moniker, frequently seems an enigmatic figure within the indie rock community. Despite his noteworthy contributions to the New Pornographers and Swan Lake, Bejar has always maintained an aura of detachment from his collaborative projects. Stylistically and temperamentally, he has never quite fit in with the rest of his sprightly New Pornographers bandmates, an impression reinforced by his oddly captivating stage presence with the band when I saw them last July. Disheveled and aloof, yet constantly in control, Bejar commanded the audience’s attention with incredible ease. On his latest Destroyer release, Kaputt, Bejar continues to surprise with stealthily entrancing songs that intentionally linger long after the music has stopped.
Out of the gates, Kaputt sounded like a boozy and discordant take on something from the adult contemporary bargain bin. But that completely hasty and unfair evaluation only emerged from my own bias against Bejar’s unabashed inclusion of saxophone and trumpet solos. Bejar instead describes Destroyer’s style as “European Blues,” a label that is not entirely far off if only for its instrumental leanings. On Kaputt, Bejar isn’t afraid to combine atmospheric synths with a down-tempo woodwind section, and to my gleeful surprise, he does so to marvelous effect. Beginning work on the album in September 2008, Bejar constructed an instrumental portion that reflects his meticulous labor. The record is grounded in glittering soundscapes, tempered by the strumming of an acoustic guitar and a steady bass line. The rich, experimental backdrop he creates could almost stand alone, the album’s quiet star which at times makes the musician’s singing seem unexpected, though never unwanted.
To its core, Kaputt is a cerebral album. The record represents a journey through Bejar’s own disillusioned perspective, but with glimpses of someone still passionate despite dashed expectations. Bejar has never been a straightforward songwriter, and on Kaputt, he offers convoluted lyrics that seemingly jump around from one distinct thought to the next. Still, these are musings with which Bejar has long been familiar. Album highlight “Poor In Love” juxtaposes the songwriter’s own hesitancy to be self-congratulatory with the jubilance of those around him: “Why does everyone sing along, when we built this city on ruins?” Bejar never seems uncertain, but he can’t help but wonder what he’s missing. The lengthy album closer, “Bay of Pigs (detail),” is an ambitious track that pays off for its sense of both improvisation and careful arrangement. Beginning with cloudy, ambient instrumentals, the song builds towards an arresting climax as the music stops and Bejar quietly pleads, “You’ve got to stop calling me ‘Honey.’” The singer’s lyrical cadence is effortlessly remarkable, more poetic in its timing than any artist’s release in recent memory.
Dan Bejar has taken considerable risk with Kaputt, an album that is easy to quickly dismiss for its unerring devotion to recognizable elements of modern “lite” rock. Nevertheless, armed with a little patience and above-average headphones, I promise that your investment in the musician will be handsomely rewarded. Bejar’s breathy and tranquil delivery paired with his hypnotic instrumental arrangements meld perfectly into a proggy, jazz-pop effort that is the year’s first truly excellent album.
-Scott Lensing, co-host of The Weak End Edition, Fridays 4-6pm.