Malaparte and Bejar, together at last. I’ve been meaning to read Kaputt for
a while. Its namesake album is one of my very favourites, but
I recently enjoyed The Skin, which is another unnerving semi-fictionalization
of Malaparte’s war reporting. I say “enjoyed” but that isn’t really the right
word. Instead Malaparte’s cruel swerves between pity and flippancy feel
uncomfortably ambiguous — but also, sometimes, disturbingly relatable.
Dan Bejar mentioned in his album’s press
that he hadn’t read Kaputt when he used its title for his album; even so, the
two seem strangely well-paired. Despite Kaputt the novel’s second world war
setting, Malaparte is never reporting from the front lines. Instead, he moves
through the alien spaces that are left behind after the fighting passes.
Malaparte’s the life of a long succession of glimmering dinner parties, where
his quips never stabilize between bootlicking and mockery. But the luxury of
the banquets are against the bombed-out, alien landscapes of the
Kaputt the album has a similar eerie feeling. Its instrumentation is glowing
and immaculate. Dan Bejar, though, hovers above it with the same ambiguous
detachment as Malaparte’s narrator. In an interview with the
Bejar imagines the album’s voice coming from behind enemy lines:
It’s all the trickle-down shit of the 20th century - the 80s being the death
rattle of the Cold War, as well as having a ‘plague years’ quality, however
couched in excess and decadence.
That luxurious vision is never far away from irrevocable loss:
[Roxy Music’s] Avalon and a lot of David Sylvian’s 80s stuff reminds me of
missionaries or British officers who go native, are lost to society, kind of
just cast adrift, as they can never really be a part of the culture they’ve
landed in and are parasites on, but are cut-off from their Old World. […]
I’m not sure anyone else has put too much thought into the Heart of
Darkness angle of Avalon or Japan’s Ghosts.
Kaputt is smooth and poised but also a terrifying abyss. Its relaxed sound
doesn’t work like a trap concealing that emptiness — instead the decadence is
an integral part of the horror.
After enjoying Destroyer’s new EP Five Spanish Songs I was pleased to
enter a real-life bizarre parallel world: the Google-translated lyrics of the Sr. Chinarro
songs that Dan Bejar covers read kind of like Destroyer lyrics, but, better
yet, Sr. Chinarro’s frontman Antonio Luque looks uncannily like Bejar himself.
Taken from the album Your Blues.
Even though Destroyer are clearly one of my favourite bands, writing about them feels uncertain — the way in which I enjoy their music feels different from almost any other band. For me, Dan Bejar’s music doesn’t really work in terms of emotional identification, or even just creating a particular aesthetic effect. Instead, Destroyer songs’ intense preoccupation with their own form seems to work kind of like a certain strain of modern art.
Your Blues isn’t the best Destroyer album, but it might be my favourite — there isn’t really anything else anything like it. Its MIDI symphonics connote tinniness, but the actual sound is dense and lush — it’s inviting at first, but the canned sounds maintain a strange cold distance. In a way, the album could be read as a goof on Destroyer’s lo-fi origins — except instead of the early four-track recordings’ low fidelity to the real events they capture, Your Blues has a metaphorical low fidelity to the sound of actual instruments. It creates a lonely space where everything’s pixelated, ghostly and unreal.
The Brooklyn Masonic Temple combines dishevelment with grandeur in a way that’s perfectly suited for Destroyer’s sonic sprawl; last night it was the setting for a fantastic show. The set alternated Kaputt tracks with older material, most of which was from Destroyer’s Rubies. Even the newer, sparer tracks acquired some of the “maximum rock” quality in abundance on Rubies, with startling dynamics and exuberant vocal phrasing.
The set had an impressive sense of narrative arc. Beginning a packed show with the muted, glowing “Your Blues” was a punk move; its alien beauty is inviting but also cold. And Dan Bejar is clearly not very comfortable in front of an audience — he performs with this weird thousand-yard stare, always keeping his gaze either above the audience or down at the beers he kept in front of the monitors. As the night went on, though, even disdainful Bejar was infected by the exuberance of these songs.
The highlight was a stretched-out version of Kaputt centerpiece “Suicide Demo for Kara Walker”, which began with several minutes of gorgeous, spectrum-dominating electronic drones produced by the creative trumpet player. It was mesmerizing to hear the song emerge from the drift to become its fascinating self — Bejar’s sour, cryptic observations strangely appropriate for the music’s muscular stomp.