I enjoy the music of just about everyone in the New Pornographers collective, Neko Case and Dan Bejar especially. Destroyer’s Rubies was one of my favourite albums of 2006, and I still love listening to it. Now, Bejar’s music and personality was always a little ridiculous. His New Pornographers songs were always the strangest on every album, but they were usually also the most interesting (although “Myriad Harbour” from Challengers is an earworm that lodges itself in you until you want to drill a hole through your head).
However, after hearing some songs from the new Destroyer album, Kaputt, I don’t really know what to think. Pitchfork gave the album an 8.8 and included it on their list of Best New Music. I usually respect Pitchfork praise, which is not exactly given lightly. They described Kaputt as evoking the pop aesthetic of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Describing its sound, they offered analogues in Sade, Steely Dan, Roxy Music, and Chuck Mangione. When I first listened to the lead single, “Chinatown,” I enjoyed it, finding it retro and catchy. But after a few more listens, the kitsch and the cheese is just biting into me and making me bleed in uncomfortable places. Listen to “Chinatown,” below, and see if you can’t get through that saxophone line with a straight face.
This is the kind of music a lounge singer from 1984 would sing at a private gig in the catskills for a bunch of bankers’ wives.
This morning as I was walking to lunch, I imagined a music video for this utterly ridiculous song. The setting is, of course, an expensive restaurant with an expansive dance floor. A beautiful Asian woman in a red dress leaves her companion, an uptight older white man, to get a drink from the bar. As the music begins to play, she sees a handsome brown-skinned man her own age. They lock eyes, a thin silk fabric goes over the camera lens, already coated in more vaseline than a wrestling pig at a Wyoming county fair. They walk past Dan Bejar, singing the song, on their way to the dance floor. A subtly erotic tango begins as the saxophone kicks in.
Her older lover stares at the couple on the dance floor, his face seething with the inward rage of hidden anger. Bejar’s head turns into the frame at suitable moments throughout the song, facilitating breaks in the dance in alteration with the Asian woman’s now-former lover. As the last verse finishes, the woman in red leaves the restaurant with her new lover, walking past the older man, who is still quietly enraged. She ignores his presence completely.
Outside, the young man opens the passenger door of his car (a DeLorean, naturally), offering it to her. But the woman in red looks away and walks down the street, proudly alone and self-reliant. Bejar sings as she strides into the city on her own, repeating, “walk away.” “Walk away.”
Maybe that should be one of my alternate careers in case academics doesn’t work out. Music video director.