By David Colburn
A good album will instantly engage the listener with a fresh or enjoyable approach; a great album will find the listener oddly enthralled by its most subtle intricacies days after the listening experience. Good albums will enter the stereo with confidence and proudly create a particular environment (beauty, pain, angst, lust, jubilation, rage) that invokes a strong reaction from the listener. Great albums will masquerade as good or simply adequate albums that embed their effect deep in the listener’s mind for future consideration. A good album is all about presentation; everything hits at once and the listener leaves with a sense of satisfaction. A great album is all about presentation; certain elements are undeniably intriguing, but the listener is left wanting something more. A good album’s strengths and qualities can be clearly defined and effortlessly described, a great album’s strengths and qualities are much more difficult to decipher. Kaputt, Destroyer’s ninth full-length work, is a great album.
Consistently relaxing, yet somehow interesting: the initial reaction is not particularly strong. From “Chinatown” to “Bay of Pigs (Detail)”, there is a vintage and jazzy quality to the music and Dan Bejar’s unique voice may remind certain listeners of his work with The New Pornographers. Nothing immediately grabs the listener’s attention, but there is a certain emotion forming somewhere in the midst of sound. Songs pass by enjoyably enough with a well established serenity in the production, vocal harmonies, and reverb enhanced horns and keyboards. “Fine,” utters the respective listener, and soon enough the first experience ends.
Flash-forward to a few days later; a simple line , “I write poetry for myself,” is suddenly recited and recited again in the listener’s head. The “Blue Eyes” excerpt is relentless in its determination to reveal some greater significance beyond its eight syllables. A new listening experience is prompted and new revelations are found; the once-serene instrumentation gains a greater sense of dynamic beauty and the entire fractured poetic atmosphere obtains a new sense of potency. Repetition in the lyricism and simplicity in the rhythms become welcome additions to Kaputt’s ambience.
As the second listening experience concludes, the listener will leave with a slightly difference consensus: no particular element stands out, no particular instrumental timbre soars above the rest and no lyric features an irrefutably profound sentiment, but the entire combination is impressively executed. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and the majestic nature of lines such as “Enter through the exit, and exit through the entrance when you can” from “Suicide Demo for Kara Walker” or “I can’t walk away” from “Chinatown” cannot be fully explained or justified. Remember that a great album is all about presentation; a series of words committed to paper is not equal or comparable to a series of words expressed through a variety of inflections and tones. Kaputt succeeds in its intuitive flow, built with a sense of passion rather than a logical arsenal of aspects.
Perhaps the listener will experience the work multiple times and still not be remotely impressed or fascinated. The final contrast between the good and great album follows; a good album is often recognized as a good album by the majority of listeners with each progressive play, and a great album may never be recognized as a great album by the majority of listeners. Even if everything boils down to personal taste in the end, it must be noted that Destroyer’s Kaputt is, if not a great album, a notable candidate for such a title.
Check out the video for the title track below.