by Chris Randle
Carl wrote a long post about Destroyer’s Kaputt last week, and on Tumblr there was much rejoicing: “Finally, commentary worthy of the album.” I wasn’t going to top that, so I decided to focus on the previous critical discussion around this obsession-forming record. Carl alluded to it: various writers bringing up “dad rock” like Roxy Music and Steely Dan, or fixating on Dan Bejar’s use of “cheesy” musical signifiers. (Rifle through the 800-posts-and-counting ILX thread to find arguments for and against those interpretations.) Why not test their theories on an actual dad? Mine was born in the early 1950s. Like Bryan Ferry, half of the Eurythmics and Kenickie, he is from Sunderland. The only Kaputt reference point I gave to him before putting it on was “Vancouver.”
Dad: It’s playing “Chinatown.”
Chris: It’s supposed to be!
Dad: It doesn’t sound very modern. It sounds like something you’d hear 20-30 years ago. The first two, especially the second one, were kind of Bowie-like. When I was growing up, you would call this “soft rock.”
Chris: His earlier records never really sounded like this – they didn’t have the sax solos or the trumpets. The closest one is an album called Your Blues, but its similarities also seem radically different because all the music was made with MIDI simulations. Even his voice is a little restrained here, when it’s normally very, uh, idiosyncratic. A lot of critics have cited later Roxy Music as a possible inspiration. Bejar himself, too.
Dad: Roxy Music had a bigger edge. This is more conventional, I would say, the music anyway. If you listen to the Roxy Music stuff, the guitar often sounds…jagged in some sense.
[Chris is relieved that his dad didn’t go for “angular”]
Dad: These lyrics are…interesting. “Wise, old, black and dead in the snow…Don’t talk about the South…”
Chris: They’re made up of text that the artist Kara Walker gave to him. Bejar returns to America over and over again in his lyrics, as a subject or a symbol, but I don’t think he’s ever mentioned race before.
Dad: It’s okay, but it doesn’t have that distinctiveness of a Bowie or a Steely Dan. Mainly I think because of the music, it’s too monotonous. They need a bit of quirkiness in it.
Chris: You mean, aside from the lyrics?
Dad: Some of the lyrics are quirky! Why is he singing about Melody Maker and NME?
[Chris tries to think of an answer that doesn’t involve the word “metacommentary,” gives up]
Dad: This sounds a bit different, it doesn’t fit with the rest of the album at all. It’s psychedelic and it’s like…LSD music.
Chris: It’s his disco single. Sort of.
Dad: I think this track was added to fill the record up.
Chris: The vinyl version has a 20-minute-long instrumental sequenced before this one, though! Maybe the hardcore fans just couldn’t get enough “Bay of Pigs.”
Dad: Quite good to listen to, overall. Some of the lyrics are good. It’s harmless, I would say. It sounded…languid. This 25-year-old throwback to jazzy soft rock. You never get the sense that Brian Ferry is just sitting around singing, it always sounds like they’re in a club or some other smoky, boozy place. [Bejar has said that he recorded some of Kaputt‘s vocals while lying around or “fixing myself a sandwich.”]
Chris: One review invoked the cover for Leonard Cohen’s Death of a Ladies’ Man – it argued that Bejar is playing a similar character, this aging playboy who’s become a little wiser and faintly amused by it all.
Postscript: I’m not sure what conclusions to draw from this conversation, if any, but it is funny that lots of music nerds (myself included) hear jarring, almost toxic beauty in Kaputt when my dad just thought it was blandly pleasant. Épater that!