Though it’s been a long time since the scratchy simplicity of Destroyer’s earliest output, Kaputt, the band’s ninth LP, sees the group (primarily sole permanent member Dan Bejar) bursting into new territory that still feels as natural as all previous Destroyer material. This allows for Bejar’s skillful arrangements and the effusive viciousness of his prose to retain their proper place without upsetting attempts to wed them to a different, experimental, more mature and confident sound. While the buoyant disco spirit on display in much of Kaputt demands a lighter verbal hand from Bejar, this slight constraint has only made his lyrical elbow sharper and more exact. And what a joy Bejar makes listening.
But what can really be said about a great record; a worthwhile, unified and ambitious handful of songs? About a difficult album that is somehow even larger than itself, or a seriously catchy set of tunes? Kaputt, standing at nine tracks, is all of these things. It’s others, also: a marriage of 2004’s moody Your Blues and the measured expansiveness of 2006’s Rubies, a continuation of Bejar’s recent interest in ambient and disco as well as a bitter, well-penned ode to cokeheads, blue-eyed soul, fretless bass and uneasy neighborhoods. Little of the midi-violin but all of the gentle melody of Your Blues is present in Kaputt, and although the album stands somewhat opposite from the slanted, yowling rock of 2001’s Streethawk: A Seduction or 2002’s This Night, a sticking point for some, Bejar’s jamminess, muscled arrangements and abilities with a tune, always the primary components in prior records, is still most prevalent here.
Present in the lyrics are the notable Bejarisms, too: women’s names, a guitar solo cued by self-conscious lyrics such as, “Just set the loop and then go wild;” the climactic moment of a song introduced with casual, throwaway profanity: “Four more years/ 400 more years of this shit/ Fuck it;” and the usual barbs reserved for the music scene, like when he sighs resignedly on “Savage Night at the Opera,” “I heard your record/ It’s all right.”
True, there’s champagne in the guitars, and the horns and sax rise out of Bejar’s carefully-crafted purple fogs in bubbly, funky tones, but Destroyer’s Kaputt has teeth, slashing and biting in places, like when Bejar cries, turning Starship on its head, “Why’s everybody sing along/ When we built this city on ruins?” on “Poor in Love,” or when he erects a sly chorus of “Wasting your days chasing some girls/ All right, chasing cocaine/ To the backrooms of the world all night” in the title track. Abrasive guitar lets in atmosphere when the scene becomes too sweaty; glammish Europop gives way to bombastic horns; a serious-sounding bass line bends over smoky, almost sexy “buh da da daaas.”
Opener “Chinatown,” pulsating in dainty steps and punchy saxophone, horn bursts, an anxious croon and loosely strummed guitar, provides a blueprint for the endeavor. “Blue Eyes,” played with energy and possessing a life of its own, and the later bass-heavy “Downtown” feature impressive background vocals from Sibel Thrasher, making her first appearance on a Destroyer album, that recall some New Pornographers tracks that Bejar has sung with Neko Case.
Fourth is sleeper-anthem standout “Suicide Demo for Kara Walker,” a track that, at the two-minute mark, after tinkling warbles of synth, ambient sparkle and signature “European blues” styling on guitar, arrests the ear with a cool flute hook wrapped in electric guitar. Immediately, Bejar is lyrically (as even he admits) on a roll, before horns, high-hat, guitar and later, sax, bring it to a party-crashing close. He surmises, in what must be supposed is an address to–or possibly from–visual artist Kara Walker, “Poor child/ You’re never going to make it/ New York just wants to see you naked/ And they will.”
Closing the album is “Bay of Pigs,” which appeared on a 2009 EP of the same name, a song of painfully intelligent lyrical gymnastics and indelibly satisfying musicianship; a plodding, disco-lite epic, hopeless and joyful like the invasion whose name it shares. For the LP, the back end of the formerly 13 minute-long track has been cribbed and a splash of Thrasher’s vocals added to its final seconds, and it’s as good a final act to Kaputt as could be found.
It’s the same old Destroyer. That is, completely different. “Let’s face it, old souls like us have been born to die/ It’s not a war ’til someone loses an eye.”