“Is he kind of out of it?” she asked me.
And I have to admit that he did look a little lost in thought—with his bookish muss and his suave, still lascivious gaze over our heads, and because he didn’t say much, just a few reticent thank yous.
But if he looked somewhat wane, as if in a white-powder comatose, I’d say it was instead just another tic of his canny meticulousness: same as the careful way he held the mic on his fingertips like a dart, or his calm way on the tambourine cues, or how he would scrunch down during sax-slathered interludes to take a two-sip mix from his three-drink miscellany onstage—a whiskey, a high-end beer and a can of PBR. To get a sense of him: the Cedar Cultural Center, a cozy, ex-aged-theater venue that has wood floors and brag-worthy chai, brimmed with the Twin Cities’ messy-wavy haired literates—most of whom were bent on a shhh-ed bearing, leaving Destroyer’s Dan Bejar to mildly arrest the air with his poetic guile and underplayed droll and in-jokes.
“I think that’s just him—just the way he is,” I said back to my friend.
At least that’s the smooth, lax Bejar of these days. In “Kaputt”—his album put out earlier this year—I guess his words are just as vivid, punctual and witty as ever, and everybody can have their favorite. For instance, “love is a political beast.” Or, “I sent a message in a bottle to the press. It said, ‘Don’t be ashamed and disgusted with yourselves.’” Or, “I write poetry for myself.” But these word strokes (and much more high-brow ones) do get a much nicer space from each other when compared to some of his older stuff, in which his brainy strands, already hard to get at, got a little smothered by how ongoing they were.
And his vocals have kind of chilled out, too. Where his voice was wry before, it’s now set with a sexy, everyday laze. He’s said that he recorded some of the vocals while making a sandwich, and somehow it sounds like one of the most caring things he’s done.
All of these swings, though, fit into the sound of “Kaputt,” which takes its weird cues and horn cheese from ‘80s smooth jazz and New Age—the kinds you’d surely expect him to balk at. It’s a cheeky move—for most anyone else, undignified—but here gives a newfound sensuousness that somehow punctuates everything that Bejar’s about at this point. Through it, he sounds like he’s on the other side of sybarite, giving his “been there” smirk.
It’s also just very, very graceful, lush and pulsating. Somehow these easy-listening vibes end up sounding, ironically, like the most rock band thing that Destroyer could have done, a credit to the balanced but bold sound mixing both live and on the recording. Each track has its own floaty dash of jazzy tricks and off-beat makeup (which generally follow Dan’s ideation and wordplay then a verse-chorus progression). But, between the bass thumps and sax sighs and Bejar’s thorough cool, “Kaputt” also works together with as much sonic and thematic cohesion as anything in recent memory.
Each of the record’s nine tracks are distinctly memorable, but I think that Bejar’s intertwining lyrical slabs are suited best to longer songs, of which there are a couple on this record.
Especially “Suicide Walk for Kara Walker,” which is a collaborative piece with artist Kara Walker, whose work investigates America’s racial history. With the extended form, Bejar’s lyrics take on a newfound tone that’s especially disparate and dreamy.
Well, actually that last one’s a wasted adjective, I guess: as my friend noted at Tuesday’s concert, he is in a world of his own. “Sounds, smash hits, melody makers, NME—it all seems like a dream to me,” he says. And it’s enough to be there with him in it, whether it’s all understood or not.