Dan Bejar doesn't consider music his "first calling." He feels he'd be more suited for the monotony of career in data entry instead. "I think it seems soothing," he says.
A sense of jittery uneasiness with his chosen profession has led Bejar, who records and performs as Destroyer, to a new direction with his latest album, Kaputt. The change takes Destroyer's sound away from a standard modern rock/pop arrangement of a couple of guitars, bass and drums and shifts it toward a sophisticated and richly textured vibe that relies heavily on synthesizers, electronic drums and reverb-laden horn solos.
The new direction is apparent as soon as the needle drops on Kaputt. The opening tones of "Chinatown"—atonal keyboards and background chatter like a digital ensemble setting up—are taken over by an electronic snare drum that counts down to a rather smooth and seductive tune complete with interspersed trumpet solos. If 1980s pop is truly back, Kaputt might be the crown jewel of the movement.
That's because Kaputt goes beyond low-hanging fruit of cheesy synth sounds used by the current generation of winkers and nodders. It's more stately and austere, more Avalon by Roxy Music than something by Thomas Dolby. Bejar felt this type of layered, smooth-pop approach was necessary because it allowed for more space in the songs, and he needed more space to operate because, well, he didn't really have full-fledged songs.
"I knew I wanted to make a pop record for the first time in my entire life, especially because all I really had were these little shrapnel of songs and lyrics," Bejar says. "Instead of crafting them all into songs, I wanted to just string them all together in a way that felt good to me."
That shrapnel is a result of Bejar's writing process. Instead of grasping kernels of inspirations and fleshing them into fully formed pieces, Bejar takes only the inspired bits and moves on. Sometimes he gets songs, but other times, like on Kaputt, he doesn't. There's an apparent discomfort with that approach for Bejar, like a schoolchild who feels inferior because he doesn't have the same shoes as the cool kids. "I've never sat down and tried to write music, or write a song. It just comes to me. I'm wondering if I should learn to sit down and approach it like a task," he says. "I think I might have to be more meat-and-potatoes about it instead of just walking around in the sunshine waiting for the muse to hit you."
For now, though, blows from his muse have led Bejar to record an album that's loose and spacious, unconstrained by a formal verse-chorus-verse structure for each track. In place of that structure, songs rely more on mood, with instrumental pieces acting as transitions from one piece of "shrapnel" to another. This is especially the case on the standout track "Suicide Demo for Kara Walker."
Then there's his voice. Yes, Bejar is aware that his nasally, tinny instrument isn't for everyone—mostly because people openly tell him so. "For 18 years, I've had people tell me what an abrasive function my voice has. As a singer, you can look at that in a damning way," he says.
Bejar's answer was to use a decidedly different musical approach to find a comfortable place for his songs and his voice.
"I got sick of it always ruining the day, and other things couldn't get heard—not even the words—because of the sound of my voice..." he says. "I thought it would be cool to eliminate that for one record."