Destroyer Loses Their Charm on Apathetic Latest

Destroyer -- "Kaputt" -- Merge Records -- 2 STARS

COURTESY MERGE

The word ‘kaput’ conjures vague notions of brokenness or dysfunction, notions surprisingly apt for this latest, decidedly underwhelming output from Canadian Indie band Destroyer. “Kaputt” starts waning at its start. Its meager nine tracks blend into one apathetic, indistinguishable hour of limp vocals and languishing beats, in sharp contrast to the variety and dynamism of their previous album “Destroyer’s Rubies.”

“Kaputt” marks a shift from the band’s usual guitar-heavy classic-rock instrumentation. Lead singer and songwriter Dan Bejar seems interested in experimenting with jazz influences and consequentially employs saxophone and flute prominently on many of the songs. In theory, this choice should contribute some much needed variety to the otherwise limp album. In practice, however, the slow, muzak atmospherics and sluggish wind interludes clash with the electric beat that courses through most of the album. The resulting combination produces songs like “Suicide Demo for Kara Walker,” which sounds like the background music in the kind of swanky oriental bar Mad Men’s Don Draper would frequent. The jazz flute interludes are painfully slow and far too long to blend in seamlessly with the rest of the song.

“Suicide Demo” is typical of the album in that it builds at a glacial pace, taking almost three minutes before the listener hears any vocals. “Savage Night at the Opera” falls prey to the same problem, although—when Bejar finally deigns to sing—the lyrics are arresting, if inscrutable: “Old souls like us are being born to die / It’s not a war till someone loses an eye.” Whatever Bejar is trying to express here, he does so with typical poetic flair. True to form, Bejar steers clear of narrative in favor of impressionistic imagery. His lyrics are more evocative than representational, but demand some kind of gut response from the listener. It is through his lyrics, more than anything else, that Bejar manages to engage his audience.

The title track is more thoughtfully produced than most of the songs, but the jazz aesthetic is still jarringly juxtaposed with impassive vocals and a labouring disco beat. Bejar sings, “Wasting your days / Chasing some girls / All right / Chasing cocaine / Through the back rooms of the world / All night.” Once again, Bejar provides a vivid impression of a certain lifestyle, but the lack of feeling with which he delivers these ostensibly judgmental lyrics divests them of impact.

And therein lies the album’s principal flaw: its complete and utter lack of conviction. For someone whose voice and style have been likened to those of David Bowie, Bejar has a remarkable inability to get excited by anything he sings. Bejar’s most infuriating characteristic is his imperturbability. Nothing seems able to shake him out of his complacent monotone. He rarely sings on “Kaputt,” but instead speaks in a nasal, self-satisfied voice. What makes the tracks so homogenous is the identical pace that Bejar maintains through all of them: he speak-sings at exactly the same speed on every song. It is almost metronomic in its precision, but the effect is oppressive.

On previous albums, including “Destroyer’s Rubies,” Bejar’s signature voice managed to sound understated but impassioned. Songs like “Your Blood” proved that, when he does sing, the results are delightful. On this track and elsewhere—at least on “Destroyer’s Rubies”—Bejar recalls Bob Dylan. But on Destroyer’s latest, it’s as though Bejar has decided he can no longer be bothered.

Bejar’s apathy and indulgence peak on the album’s final track, “Bay of Pigs.” At just over 11 minutes, “Bay of Pigs” is the longest—and slowest—track on the album by a long shot. Instead of increasing the pace for a rousing finale to the album, Bejar slows it down and minimizes musical accompaniment to such an extent that the track practically stops. After another interminable introduction Bejar finally says “I don’t know what I’m doing / Alone in the dark.” After “Kaputt,” that much was already clear.

—Staff writer Anjali R. Itzkowitz can be reached at aitzkow@college.harvard.edu.

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