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Thursday
Feb032011

DESTROYER - Kaputt

I was participating in a playful little internet discussion the other day that centered around a friend's query about when, if ever, there would come a day that he could listen to Al Stewart—the Scottish folkie turned highly literate purveyor of soft-rock—without apology. Based on the rapturous response to Dan Bejar's latest as Destroyer, a shameless tribute to smooth vibes called Kaputt, I'd say that time is now.

As with most things, this wave of appreciation began with a blast of irony. A cheeky DJ playing Hall & Oates' "Private Eyes" here; an episode of "Yacht Rock" there. But with that door open a crack, the last few years have seen a far more naked brand of affection for soft-rock: Michael MacDonald was asked by Grizzly Bear to track vocals for them, Bon Iver is heading up a group (Gayngs) whose sole mission in life is to bestow greater appreciation upon Godley and Creme's "Cry", and Gerry Rafferty's passing is met with more tearful postings of links to "Right Down The Line" than one would've ever anticipated.

So what gives? Did we all just have copies of Breakfast In America and Year Of The Cat hidden in our sock drawers, waiting for a moment like this? While listening to Kaputt, it's not hard to imagine just how different the reaction to it would've been in 1995. But now in 2011, there's a sense that we've gotten over the giggles and self-conscious embarrassment to simply return to the heart of the matter of any genre: are the songs any good? After all, isn't that why—no matter prevailing trends—it was never really gauche to love "I'm Not In Love"? 

By that measure, no amount of saxophone solos can muck up the great songs that fill Kaputt. More to the point, they quite enhance them. The entire record—both sonically and lyrically—walks a line between winking silliness and genuine pathos. As characters chase after parties and cocaine, deny themselves love, have spats with the press, sing songs for America, and just generally carry on in indulgent, self-destructive ways, they do so to a soundtrack that evokes a faded decadence—a false front of elegant composure that we all know hides a decaying structure behind. 

While not a concept record per se, first track "Chinatown" plays more like the opener to a suite than a single track, its extended instrumental breaks and concise, image-laden lyrics setting the scene beautifully. From there, Bejar's gentle but smirking croon proves the ideal narratorsoothing when it's required, telling a joke to ease the tension. He guides us through a rich, yet casual record of soft-pop that, aside from the New Order-ish turn of "Savage Night at the Opera", sits in the same sonic strike zone throughout. Even 11-minute closer "Bay of Pigs", a previously released piece of prog-pop, doesn't break the spell, its lengthy ambient passages capping the album perfectly.

Bejar is restless enough as an artist for one to surmise that Kaputt is more of a lark than anything else, but while often funny, it's no joke. This is easily one of the best records Destroyer has ever done and a boon to soft-rock champions everywhere. Keep it smoooooth, people.

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