Monday, April 4, 2011

Destroyer - Kaputt (2011) REVIEW

As much as I dislike this 80s revival thing which is happening for some years lately, one man Canadian band Destroyer ninth album ode to the blue eyes soul of... the 80s is another matter completely. Dan Bejar is by all means no revivalist, the structure of his music is deeply rooted in the 90s to the present day and his references are too numerous to count. The band's admitted influences are Pavement and Guided By Voices, as well as other indie and shoegaze bands. As far as I could go, with the sixth album "Your Blues" in 2004, which shows Dan Bejar performing alone largely surrounded by MIDI-simulated orchestration, then the fantastic "Destroyer's Rubies" in 2006 and "Trouble in Dreams" in 2008, both recorded with a full band this time, the influences of the 80s in the arrangement and orchestration have always been extremely present and all over the place. This is the clothing, the naked body is where lies the real musical influences listed above. All the above mentioned albums contains rather long songs which are very often shifting tempos, rhythms and atmosphere with Dan Bejar sometimes very verbose and rather mannered vocals where he forgets more than once refrains or bridges. If you take the album "Destroyer's Rubies", one of their most guitar oriented albums, the clothing is pretty close to melodic and rather light guitar bands of the eighties, from Orange Juice (Edwyn Collins) to Aztec Camera, but the way the song are built and the freedom with which Dan Bejar is throwing his voice all over have few to do with the very traditional songwriting of 80s pop/rock bands. This structural freedom can be more regularly found during the 90s indeed. Besides, Destroyer tends to extend their songs in some progressive way, yes like in the expression 'prog rock' made so famous during the seventies, mostly with bands like Genesis and Yes, although Destroyer is again, clothing and body, closer to some less pretentious, lighter and maybe more genuine bands like Supertramp and surely Steely Dan at the end of that decade and already creating the sound of what will come a little later during the eighties.

As a warning for this album, I would like to add here the first lines of the review for this same album on Pitchfork Media : "Every era has a sound. When considering this, it can be easy to forget that the sound [is] developed as a way to express something. Music heard as kitsch years later was once put forth with complete sincerity. I mention this in connection with Kaputt, the new record from Dan Bejar's Destroyer, because the first thing that strikes you about the album is its unusual sound, one for which we've all developed a cluster of associations." (1)

This new album, under the odd title "Kaputt", seems to converge all the later albums in one while adding some extra icing on the cake. There is a definite balance between the guitars and synth parts, the later being not confined to just MIDI instrumentation. Furthermore, if this cake still tastes as delicious as the older ones, there was extra care to make the icing and decoration as delightful as the rest of it. The production and arrangement on this thing are among the lushiest and most opulent you will find in the area, simply put that record is perfect if you need to test and check the quality of your new high standard audio equipment. By the way, while listening to this record it was hard not to think of the second album by Scottish band The Blue Nile called "Hats" (1989) . For the anecdote, The Blue Nile began their recording career "when a local hi-fi manufacturer offered the band money to record a track that would showcase the sonic range of the company's high-end audio equipment" (2). Destroyer clearly doesn't need such help anymore, but beyond the general quality of the recording itself, Destroyer and The Blue Nile share a similar density and lightness as much in their arrangement as in the general melancholic atmosphere and musical performances, there's also something simultanously desperate and dreamy in both bands' music. Destroyer shows itself as a far more decadent affair, surely thanks to its frontman and singer but also through the warmer, almost glitterish and 'cheesy' general sound spectrum and the far groovier orchestration. Dan Bejar is without doubt the Master of Ceremony, not like some MC from a hiphop posse, but like your host in a cabaret. His vocal persona got something reminiscent of Bryan Ferry or some pretty talkative David Bowie in a tuxedo, some decadent playboy who would chat you extensively up with agitated hands motion and facial expression while thinking out loud about very serious subjects with much humour but in such intensity that it could put you off, or completely turn you on for the rest of the night. Indeed, Dan Bejar mannered voice and avalanche of words can be offputting, he is not your average pop or rock singer, he's theatrical, he's mannered, he's got so much to tell you. And if sometimes it could stop the emotion to be frontally felt, the sincerity and the passion he puts in his vocal will win you over if you care to listen, the reward will be exceptional.

Dan Bejar is first and foremost a fantastic and very prolific songwriter, as a member of the pretty good The New Pornographers he penned many of their songs as well, but his main medium is Destroyer, this band is his child and "Kaputt" is another marvellous showcase of his talent as melody maker, singer, arranger and producer.

The album opens with the extremely catchy and stylish "Chinatown", a very evocative and filmographic song which should become a huge hit in some better parallel world. The second song "Blue Eyes" enters with a near a cappela part with some poetic lyrics which he concludes by "I write poetry for myself" before some dissonant guitar-synth enter and a woman introduce herself "oh baby" (that's the playboy effect) before some reverbed trumpet arrives and more and more instruments are added until the very simple but groovy drums impose the tempo and we are near completely into The Blow Monkeys' "Digging Your Scene" territory. It was already stated earlier that being heavily inspired by other bands and artists are not bothering as long as the result transcends and just add something more to the source of inspiration, well "Blue Eyes" is a beautiful example of such an improvement. "Savage Night at The Opera" is one odd fusion of Sade's backing band imitating New Order with Dan Bejar himself on vocals, with the difference anyway that Dan Bejar's own backing band is way better than Sade's and it makes for an extremely enjoyable quite danceable song for a tuxedo and long dress party on a terrace at the top of a Vancouver's (where Destroyer is coming from) skyscraper. Dan Bejar goes all padadam padadam dam and seems to look at all these guests through the vapour of some scotch, a little blasé and knowing that the night will be savage very soon. "Suicide Demo for Kara Walker", the second longest song on the album, shows a change in mood with the two minutes and a half ambient intro which contains just synth and a flute before a lazy beat arrive and Dan Bejar seems himself particularly disenchanted, hence the title.

There's no need to decribe all songs on this album as they are all very evocative and appeal to the imagination, through the lyrics and surely through the instrumentation. Maybe the best way to get a picture, which really mean an image, or a photography, of this album is by watching the video made for the single and title track of the album (3). Musically, this song also represents a perfect summary to the whole record, everything is there, from the stylish production to the cheesy slightly reverbed trumpet and saxophone to the very acerbic lyrics. A bittersweet album all along, at the same time near pedestrian but always avoiding to sound flat and totally unearthly yet deeply human.

One drawback on this album is the last and longest track (over 11 minutes) "Bay of Pigs (detail)", which could not grasp my attention for its whole length. As intriguing as the very loud ambient intro can be, and how interesting this kind of long moody suite is in its structure and change of sound patterns, the emotion didn't follow. Besides, this track doesn't really fit to the rest of the album. This song was already issued in a slightly longer version on an EP called, yes, "Bay of Pigs" and it's hard to fathom what are the reasons for it to reappear on this album.

8 out of 10

in reference to :

  • We'll Build Them a Golden Bridge (1996) -
  • City of Daughters (1998) -
  • Thief (2000) -
  • Streethawk: A Seduction (2001) -
  • This Night (2002) - 6
  • Destroyer's Rubies (2006) - 7
  • Trouble in Dreams (2008) - 7

No comments:

Post a Comment

Spook Your Mind