In which a lifelong music hobbit gets loaded
Dan Bejar has clearly had a few too many. Normally, he's muttering asides to himself at the far end of the bar. Tonight, to your surprise — and then, your mounting consternation — he's plopped himself in the seat next to you, and — oh, God — he's whispering poetry about Kara Walker to you over a Chuck Mangione smooth-jazz saxophone. It's supremely uncomfortable, not to mention a little creepy and sad. But something about him keeps you in your seat. For one, he's funny. "I sent a message in a bottle to the press: it said, Don't be afraid or disgusted with yourselves'," he cracks, and you're about to laugh when he suddenly admits, "I thumbed through the books on your shelves" and boom, everything's creepy again. There's a sort of soulful-wreck quality to him, however, that pulls at your heart, and against your better judgment, you spend the night with him.
This is the lonely, intimate, and oddly desperate world that Bejar builds in Kaputt, his millionth record as Destroyer, and his strangest by far. His records have always been strange, but previously, it was a warm, contented brand, the sound of a lifelong music hobbit happily lost in his hole. On albums likeDestroyer's Rubies, Trouble In Dreams and Streethawk: A Seduction, Bejar seemed to be building an archly cryptic one-man graduate thesis on rock history the way other men might build complicated train sets. On Kaputt, the music hobbit wanders, blinking, out into the night, looking for romantic companionship. Things go poorly.
For starters, he's picked duds that are about 30 years out of fashion: smooth-jazz horns, quiet-storm vibraphones, fretless bass, caterwauling female backup singers. It's the makeout music of his now-distant high school prom, and it's grown a little musty. Secondly, he's not exactly whispering sweet nothings to the people he meets: "Oh child, you're never going to make it/ New York City just wants to see you naked/ and they will," he leers on "Suicide Demo for Kara Walker." On "Kaputt," he's pillow-talking you with a chorus of obscure music magazines: "Sounds, Smash Hits, Melody Maker, NME/ All sound like a dream to me."
That Kaputt manages to suggest all of this poignant subtext while still just pouring gorgeously out of your speakers makes it Bejar's richest achievement. It balances neatly along several precarious aesthetic lines: between beauty and kitsch, between irony and sincerity, between sensual and cerebral, funny and sad. Bejar's witticisms have never been sharper, and they've also never been awash in this much glimmering, beautiful sound: Trust a music student of his caliber to make such a forceful argument for his chosen genre. Kaputt amounts for a startlingly convincing argument for what soft-rock does right, which is maybe an appropriate endpoint for a record partially about failed seduction. If you spend an evening drinking with Bejar, it might come to pass that neither of you get laid. But you will at least discover a few new records.