Dan Bejar named the ninth Destroyer album, Kaputt, after a novelistic World War II dispatch by Italian journalist Curzio Malaparte, even though he hadn’t read it. In a way, this is surprising, as fifteen years of Destroyer lyrics give you the sense that Bejar’s read just about everything; he even ends one song by repeating, four times, “I’ve thumbed through the books on your shelves.” (It feels like a boast. He doesn’t say which books.) In another way, though, it’s logical for him to fold his songs beneath an unfamiliar book. More room for his own stories.
That is, if stories can serve as any more accurate a descriptor than songs for Bejar’s primary unit of expression. His tracks are packed with lines that only sometimes add up to a larger narrative; more often, they flare like fireworks but reveal dead ends once they stop smoking. Here, it feels increasingly like we’re overhearing a private monologue. On “Blue Eyes,” he sings, “I write poetry for myself!” (On 2008’s Trouble in Dreams: “A woman by another name is not a woman / I’ll tell you what I mean by that. Maybe not in seconds flat, maybe not today.”) Elsewhere he repeats, somberly, “The problem with Destroyer is…” and never finishes the sentence.
The problem with Destroyer is, evidently, one Bejar will continue to wrestle with for as long as he writes songs. Kaputt is not his first step in the direction of renouncing the practice—the last few years have been rife with recordings Bejar made “after deciding never to record again,” such as the radio-play-like 2010 B-side “Grief Point,” on which he left musical duties to a collaborator and concentrated entirely on the words—but it’s the first unified statement in which we hear him working to come to terms with the idea that songwriting and serious writing are irreconcilable.
If making an album questioning the validity of making albums is a cheap paradox, Kaputt nonetheless sounds stronger for Bejar’s surrendering to his disillusionment rather than fighting it. Unlike his wild, bleated grandstanding on past albums, his delivery has a flat, relaxed, seductive quality. In a recent interview, he says he sang some of it while making a sandwich or lying on his couch. As a result, his lyrics sound less like lyrics and more like the poetry of luxuriating ennui and half-eaten lunch: a move toward an even more insular poetics, where we have no way, or need, to know which of our books he’s thumbed through. “Words, words, words,” he drowses toward the middle of the album. “Longings, longings, longings.”
His new half-sighed style works especially well in the eleven-minute finale, “Bay of Pigs,” which begins with an avowal—“Listen, I’ve been drinking, as our house lies in ruin / I don’t know what I’m doing….”—and splits into dozens of threads like a Bolañian half-drunk poet’s quest, our protagonist vomiting in an English garden amid drifters and aesthetes and ladies. It’s a slow-release list, a catalog of images, and its continually shape-shifting backdrop adds heft and bulk: electronic tones, layered voices, quietly thundering percussion, prismatic synth washes, bleeps and squiggles and pulses. Really, for all the details, you get the sense that even more is left out.
This is how Kaputt works as a sound track to Bejar’s soliloquies: these songs feel like poems, litanies of words and longings mixing vulnerability with cool detachment—but they are songs, buttressed and punctuated and finalized by sound.