North of Northwest: Destroyer – Kaputt
Pop music may have saved many of our lives, but it’s not like anyone makes it out of a purely altruistic impulse.The creation of music, or any kind of art, is primarily a selfish act, born out of a desperate and compulsive need to expunge and express. The creation is meant to help the artist himself, by helping him fix his perspective on the world or expressing his feelings or expunging his demons, and any other comfort it provides is merely collateral healing.
So when I listen to Destroyer‘s Kaputt and feel that it’s an incredibly self-absorbed work, I’m probably right, and it’s probably not fair to treat that as a criticism. But Kaputt is so self-absorbed as to feel exclusionary. Despite several attempts to knock on the gates, I find myself unable, and increasingly unwilling, to enter Destroyer’s world.
Kaputt‘s sound is a mix of smooth jazz, early 80s soft rock, and apathetic sing-talk. Sometimes the combination is just as strange and excruciating as it sounds, but just as often it’s tolerable and even mildly pleasant. The lyrics are vaguely poetic, but feel emotionally void, an effect enhanced by their blase delivery. The overall impression is of a smooth, unbroken wall of “fine.” There’s no texture, nothing to grab onto, no hooks to pull me in. There are no clues as to where I’m even supposed to begin to connect with this album. There are just those big gates that I’m left standing outside of, and no one can hear me banging.
Sometimes, for something puzzling, the key is in the context. An understanding of the artist’s methods and intentions can lead from blank bewilderment to informed love. (You should have seen my face the first time I listened to Colin Stetson.) I sought out interviews with Destroyer head Dan Bejar in hope they would offer me clues to how to appreciate the album. Instead, they became the death knell for my relationship with Kaputt. It turns out that a Dan Bejar interview is nearly as impenetrable as Kaputt itself: he tends to speak in stream-of-consciousness half-formed phrases that, like his lyrics, seem to almost mean something, if only you could figure out what. Certainly he doesn’t seem particularly interested in helping you out.
“I’m into the point, just not the grasping. Just constantly at odds with critical definitions of “actual” and “meaning,” I say critical cause I think in the normal day-to-day use of language people would side with me, but when we sit down to analyze (don’t get me wrong, I dig analysis!), things get weird.”
Eventually the frustration became too much. Kaputt, once confusing, missed its chance at intriguing and simply began to get on my nerves. There’s a point when challenging becomes inaccessible. With no emotional connection to the music or lyrics, I have no reason to care about them, and the blase tones and meaningless interviews gradually made me feel like the band doesn’t give a fuck about me. Hey, fair enough. I’ll stop knocking and go on my way. I leave Destroyer only with a quote from their own album: “I heard your record. It’s alright.”