I want to start by saying that Kaputt – Dan Bejar’s ninth full-length release under the Destroyer moniker – is my favourite Destroyer album, and that it might well be yours too. And not just because that seems like a perfectly adequate way to kick off a review. No, I want to tell you that up-front because I’m afraid that if I don’t and you read on, you’ll never believe me. See, the problem is, while I’m certain that Kaputt will feel to you like an “album” in the classic sense, and while I’m hopeful it will become a favourite, I’m less confident you’ll even believe that this is a Destroyer album in the first place.
What should Destroyer sound like? I used to think I had him more or less pegged. And you might have your own Destroyer box, too. But the first striking thing about Kaputt is that it forced me to revisit some of those earlier Destroyer releases, and to realize that this coherent, linear musical narrative I had in my head was a lot more superficial than I had thought. Sure, structurally, it’s not tricky to identify that unique Destroyer sound; and, indeed, it’s really not that difficult to pick it out all over Kaputt here either. What matters, however, about this fresh new direction – and, as it turns out, about all those previous directions – is the vastly different places they have taken me to.
Kaputt could certainly take a listener many places. To you, it might be the soundtrack to a gritty police procedural. It might be Twin Peaks. Hell, it might even be The Red Shoe Diaries. But however it feels to you, it’s certainly the kind of thing you only expect to see if you find yourself on the wrong channel at the right time of night (or vice versa). And once you’re there, you’ll hardly notice it, even though you won’t really have to look for it either. There’s Kaputt, a little ways down the dimly-lit street, past the puddles and the piles of refuse, rising up into the night with the steam from the manholes.
So when Destroyer comes slinking up off those hot streets and unleashes the 50-minute masterpiece of a quiet storm that is Kaputt, it sure is easy to get lost in the atmosphere. All swirling saxophones and soulful synths, splashed with trumpets and reverb and brushes and the jazz! Oh, the jazz!, Bejar stumbles through this rich world he’s created with the confident swagger of a boozehound on payday, ultimately settling for a window seat at the all-night diner, with the bassline bobbing along smoothly, effortlessly, unconsciously, the way the rhythm of the ocean sometimes stays with you long after you’ve gotten off the water. And while the dreamy lyrics retain his characteristic opacity and cadence, Bejar’s delivery is as refreshing as it is deeply soulful. Set back from the musical foreground (in uncharted territory by Destroyer standards), Bejar’s languid, relaxed vocals give so much weight and richness to these songs, particularly when they’re complemented by those of the stunning Sibel Thrasher; yet, like the steam, they seem to fade naturally as soon as they appear.
Of course, we’re so comfortable with this hazy cinematic vision of our atmosphere that it’s easy to forget something like the fact that, unless you happen to be in the right parts of New York, there simply isn’t any steam rising up from the streets where you live. It’s so easy to forget we don’t really live in that world of fog and sirens that it hardly even feels like a trip when we visit. This, then, feels to me like Kaputt‘s ultimate achievement: musically, lyrically, stylistically, it represents a significant departure from any of Dan Bejar’s previous efforts; yet it is still quintessentially, unmistakably Destroyer. It’s a journey to a picturesque, exotic land that should feel as familiar as the fog you left behind. And it’s one hell of a trip along the way.