In Dan Bejar’s latest masterpiece, Kaputt, he sums up the American experience in one simple, vulgar phrase: “Poor child you’re never going to make it/ New York City just wants to see you naked and they will.”
Exploitation. Anxiety. Celebrity. On the surface, Dan Bejar doesn’t seem to care too much for the American way of life. He is Canadian, after all, and the resentment is nearly palpable. But for me, Kaputt is just too good to write off as a record about Bejar’s insecurities about being from Canada. I could also say Kaputt makes Bejar sound fascinated with America, but that too would be unfair to someone who writes such original music.
Simply put, Kaputt is about urbanity and indirectly, and almost absent-mindedly, about America. Bejar hails from Vancouver, a truly stunning city that blurs the line between romantic and progressive. Vancouver stands in regularly for the surging American metropolis when Tinseltown doesn’t want to turn over any cash to Uncle Sam (which has it’s own divisive implications, ones that Bejar doesn’t really get into on Kaputt). Look at the ideas that surround his American sentiments, this isn’t necessarily uncharted territory. Looking back to Rubies, or even Bejar’s work with the New Pornographers, we see a man obsessed with how all roads lead back to the cities, and that cities themselves act like people.
Kaput opens with a generalization in “Chinatown.” It’s a song about a particular place in a city, may it be London, Chicago, San Francisco or Denver. “Chinatown” is universal to urbanity, a stranger to the bucolic, like Bejar himself. Remember, this is the man who once sang, “I took a plain/I took a train/ Who cares, you always end up in the city?” As if the city were the ultimate goal, or at least the only option.
So what do these urban backdrops provide? They give an honesty and allow Bejar to objectively comment on myriad situations. Bejar doesn’t put himself above or below any situation, he’s just a patient observer trying to make sense of a basic reality. In his sort-of homage to Kara Walker, he sings rather persuasively “Mushhead genius/ passes for love these days,” weaving this in with the idea of an apathetic America. Love, to him, has become an apathetic de facto part of reality, something we know we should have, but aren’t really sure that we want. “And as proud Americans/ We let it slide…away…” He’s simultaneously calling us out and agreeing with us, a fault that humans possess but won’t own up to.
As the album winds down, Bejar addresses his intentions directly, “I wrote a song for America/ Who knew?” He didn’t really set out to write an album about living just a bit above the border, but that’s what happened. America’s influence is so big, it’s almost unavoidable. Regardless, Bejar comes across as a distinct individual. Few albums could be so sleazy and so profound at the same time. It’s a tough fence to straddle, but Bejar does it to perfection.
Listen to Destroyer here.
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