Monday, December 19, 2011

Best Albums of 2011 #12 Destroyer - Kaputt (Merge)

I have to admit off the bat, I was reluctant to include this album - Kaputt by Dan Bejar's astonishingly great Destroyer project - on this list. It doesn't fit the aesthetic of the blog and I was concerned it might seem out of place. In the end, I decided it's just too damn good not too include and, were this a more general music blog, it would probably be placed somewhere closer to number 5. In any event, Dan Bejar has written one of the strangest, most compelling, and most bafflingly brilliant albums of the year and easily the best "indie rock" album (whatever that means) I've heard since I don't even know when. The weird thing is I'm having a really hard time figuring out exactly why Kaputt is so good. Much of the instrumentation sounds like it was lifted off a yacht circa 1979 or a smooth rock or lite jazz radio station. It's often saccharine and corny with trilling, reverb-y saxophone and trumpet and fretless bass and swaying sounding synths and classic rock guitar riffs. Kaputt should, all told, be lame. It should be corny. It shouldn't work. But somehow, miraculously, it does. Bejar made a ridiculously bold choice with his compositions here and the fact that the music on this album is so fascinating and catchy and engaging is testament to his skill as a composer.

Of course, what brings this album over the top is Bejar's lyrics. Wry and sad, clever and strange, never cliche or straightforward, Bejar spins winding, dense, and poetic tales of  frustration and alienation and lives devoured by meaningless pursuits ("Wasting your days, chasing some girls, alright/Chasing cocaine through the backrooms of the world all night" Bejar sings on the track "Kaputt" and "poor girl you're never going to make it/New York City just wants to see you naked, and they will" he intones on "Suicide Demo for Kara Walker" (a deeply unsettling song throughout)). His voice is nasally and deadpan, often accompanied by backup female vocals but not in the grating, impossibly irritating way found, for example, on The Dirty Projector's Bitter Orca. Lyrical motifs and even phrases pop up again and again throughout the record but these too grab the listener, force him to pay attention, are all the more engrossing for their oddity and repetition. And a lot of vocal phrases stick out immediately for their poetry and obliqueness ("You were on the side of good/I was inside of the sea's guts" or "A savage night at the opera/Another savage night at the club/Let's face it, old souls like us are being born to die/It's not a war till someone loses an eye" are just two of many, many notable lines). So for whatever reason, Kaputt works. It takes all these musical elements that are goofy and kitschy and makes them beautiful and exciting and it couples them with lyrics that are often inscrutable and bizarre. Despite the fact that its various parts, on paper, should be unpleasant, Kaputt is probably the album I've listened to the most this year. It's a revelatory listen and should not be missed.

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