Quick Review (LP): Kaputt by Destroyer

Destroyer
Kaputt
Merge; 2011

My Rating: B (72/100)

Best Tracks: "Kaputt", "Chinatown", "Savage Night At The Opera", "Suicide Demo for Kara Walker", “Bay of Pigs (Detail)”

A Sleepy Aural Epic of Urban Proportions

RANDOM NOTES

– Smooth and seemingly effortless, this is the work of an artist seeking to emulate the soft rock precision of Steely Dan.
– More glammy than Smith Westerns without even trying.
– I’ve got no idea what Dan Bejar is singing about, and I assume it is rather depraved and essentially vacuous, but the melodies and the arrangements are fantastic.
– Love the Dire Straits-esque opening on "Suicide Demo for Kara Walker." Transporting.
– As great as many of these songs are, their remains a nebulosity that approaches jazziness, and I can’t help but feel that on a certain level Bejar might be a little lazy in terms of songcraft.
– One major drawback: Lacks impressiveness, that is, the ability to remain with you after you’re done listening.
– Begins to drag toward the end. For all of its excess, it lacks spark.
– Do NOT listen to this while driving. You might just fall asleep around "Song for America." 
– I have very mixed feelings about this – a sonic feast, but sort of boring and empty for all of its surface beauty.
Mark Richardson and James Christopher Monger both have lovely things to say about Kaputt.
– All in all, this is most certainly a grower, and a deep record. Nothing jumps right out and cries pay attention, but the more I listen, the more I find this a fascinating affair.

ATTRIBUTES

Cohesion (5/5) – Hard to beat the overall craftsmanship of the album.
Consequence (4/5) – No big single punch here, but it’s a very strong record.
Concept (4.5/5) – A fantastically smooth soft rock record.
Consistency (4.5/5) – Several brilliant moments really stand out above the rest.
Songs (4/5) – Could’ve been a bit stronger in the singles department.

Career In Brief: Mark Knopfler

CAREER IN BRIEF: MARK KNOPFLER

Mark Knopfler is the wildly accomplished guitar afficionado who fronted the pub-prog stadium act Dire Straits. His “sound” is easily distinguishable from that of other guitarists because of his finger-picking style, a sort of languid-staccato if you will. While the artistic output of the Dire Straits years was more focused on his fabulous guitar chops, Knopfler’s solo work has been more along the lines of singer-songwriter work, although his guitar-playing still figures prominently.

In my opinion, Knopfler is the epitome of how a rock and roll artist should mature, probably oweing something to the fact that he is a prodigious talent. Although he’s not normally put on the same pedestal as the great guitar players of rock and roll, such as Hendrix, Clapton, Van Halen, or Page, there is no doubt that Knopfler is in the same categories as these guitar heroes. The difference, I would say, is in Knopfler’s influences. Traditionally, the guitar gods have been rooted in the blues, but Knopfler’s style owes more to jazz (Django Reinhart) and Opryland country (Chet Atkins) influences.

Although his career as a solo artist proper really came post-Dire Straits, he did plenty of notable soundtrack work in the 80’s and early 90’s. Those interested in his scores should check out Local Hero and, of course, his iconic work for Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride. Otherwise, I’m going to jump right into his solo records, one of the most under-celebrated album catalogs of the last twenty years.

One other note: while some artists may write sad songs that don’t sound so sad and happy songs that sound the same as the sad ones, Knopfler, though under-stated, wears his songwriting soul masterfully on his sleeve. His music is devoid of irony, unless he intends to convey it. In our age of hyper-hipsterism, it’s rewarding to find an artist who doesn’t need to be hip to win our hearts.

MAJOR RELEASES:

Golden Heart [1996] (A): Come on, isn’t this really just the latest Dire Straits album? Knopfler downplays the prog grandiosity and instead takes aim at rootsy chamber folk. For a guy who spent the 80’s blowing out stadiums around the world, he proves himself adept at turning down the volume and turning up the celtic and cajun influences. It’s a true masterpiece. (R:  “I’m The Fool”, “Done With Bonaparte”)

Sailing to Philadelphia [2000] (B)
: Knopfler always had a knack for “storytelling” via song, but the way his lyrics unfold before you like a film on “What It Is”, you’ll feel like you are right there on Charlotte Street. A sprawling meditation on America’s wide open spaces, it features many wonderful moments, but ultimately loses itself somewhere around the “Sands of Nevada.” Features a great duet with Van Morrison on “The Last Laugh.”  (R: “What It Is”, “Silvertown Blues”)
The Ragpicker’s Dream [2002] (A+): As homey and comforting a record as you will ever find anywhere, what makes The Ragpicker’s Dream is Knopfler’s ability to seamlessly shift from a peppy novelty like “Devil Baby” to a sadly mortal meditation like “A Place We Used To Live” without skipping a beat. The title track may be the best Christmas carol to emerge from the British Isles since “Fairytale of NYC.” One of my all-time favorite records. (R: “Why Aye Man”, “The Ragpicker’s Dream”)

Shangri-La [2004] (A): Fourteen tracks about all the ways we try to find heaven on earth, lead single “Boom Like That” is the best satirical piece Knopfler has written since “Money For Nothing.” It’s also highly informative and educational. Elsewhere, “All That Matters” gets all sweet on us, and “Back To Tupelo” is some beautiful Elvis-perspective blues.
(R: “Back to Tupelo”, “Donegan’s Gone”)

All The Roadrunning [2006] (A): This isn’t properly a Mark Knopfler record, since he shares the spotlight with Emmylou Harris, but in all reality, he wrote 10 of the 12 songs, and it all sounds more like his work than hers. They go together well, and this is a great travelling record. Really, truly wonderful. (R: “Right Now”, “Rollin’ On”)


Kill To Get Crimson [2007] (A-)
: At this point in his career, MK isn’t really turning over any new stones, but when you know what you do better than anyone else in the world, why do anything else? At this point, Knopfler demonstrates his greatness in the sheer fact that he can churn out 12 tracks of such astounding quality every 2 years at the age of 58. Shouldn’t somebody name this guy the godfather of something??? (R: “Heart Full Of Holes”, “Secondary Waltz”)

Get Lucky [2009] (B+): Well, it is all starting to run together a little bit at this point, but for the most part, I stand by what I said about Kill To Get Crimson and apply it to this one. Knopfler has nothing left to prove – Lord knows he doesn’t need money. Knopfler is the type of guy who can just sit back and be artistic with his life for the rest of us. And tracks like “Cleaning My Gun” prove that he still has a few powerful turns of phrase left in him. (R: “Border Reiver”, “Cleaning My Gun”)

OTHER KEY TRACKS:

“Long Highway”
“Let’s See You”

What do love about Mark Knopfler?

Mark Knopfler: The Ragpicker’s Dream (2002)

Mark Knopfler
The Ragpicker’s Dream; 2002
Warner Brothers
My Rating: 89/100
Singular. If Mark Knopfler has proved anything in the new millenium, it is that his years spent as the frontman for the Dire Straits were merely formative. His most vital and meaningful work has happened in the last fifteen years, and at this point, there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight to his latter day glories. His third solo effort, THE RAGPICKER’S DREAM, is his greatest, and a classic album, though criminally under-recognized at present. Knopfler’s genius as a solo artist rests in combining the pub-to-prog rock aesthetic of his Dire Straits era with the atmospherics and localization of his numerous soundtrack works, such as THE PRINCESS BRIDE and LOCAL HERO. While “Why Aye Man” certainly harkens back to the Dire Straits track “Calling Elvis”, the music transports the listener to the world of German expatriates seeking a new and better life. “Hill Farmer’s Blues” similarly transcends its folkish roots and finds an epic arc, yet Knopfler can keep it light and matter-of-fact just a few tracks later with “Quality Shoe.” Still, RAGPICKER’S canonical status is afforded by its sheer vision. For all of its inherent darkness, it is a hopeful and idealistic record, a musical good times brew. While Knopfler sings with deep sadness of “A Place Where We Used to Live”, he also sums it all up in optimistic fashion with the title track. A “ragpicker”, says Merriam-Webster, is “one who collects rags and refuse for a livelihood.” Thus, THE RAGPICKER’S DREAM may well be the Knopfler album most representative of his vision, a collection of tracks yielding to the simple joys of human existence, a theme wondrously captured in the Elliott Erwitt photo that graces the cover. It’s a “mulligan stew” of pure delights, a feast of the “brotherhood of man.” Now go on and dig in.
Cohesion (5/5)
Concept (5/5)
Consequence (4/5)
Consistency (5/5)
Tracks:
1. Why Aye Man (5/5)
2. Devil Baby (5/5)
3. Hill Farmer’s Blues (5/5)
4. A Place Where We Used to Live (5/5)
5. Quality Shoe (5/5)
6. Fare Thee Well Northumberland (4/5)
7. Marbletown (5/5)
8. You Don’t Know You’re Born (4/5)
9. Coyote (4/5)
10. The Ragpicker’s Dream (5/5)
11. Daddy’s Gone to Knoxville (4/5)
12. Old Pigweed (5/5)

the ragpicker's dream-mark knopflerMark Knopfler
The Ragpicker’s Dream; 2002
Warner Brothers

My Rating: 89/100

Singular. If Mark Knopfler has proved anything in the new millenium, it is that his years spent as the frontman for the Dire Straits were merely formative. His most vital and meaningful work has happened in the last fifteen years, and at this point, there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight to his latter day glories. His third solo effort, THE RAGPICKER’S DREAM, is his greatest, and a classic album, though criminally under-recognized at present. Knopfler’s genius as a solo artist rests in combining the pub-to-prog rock aesthetic of his Dire Straits era with the atmospherics and localization of his numerous soundtrack works, such as THE PRINCESS BRIDE and LOCAL HERO. While “Why Aye Man” certainly harkens back to the Dire Straits track “Calling Elvis”, the music transports the listener to the world of British expatriates seeking a new and better life in Germany. “Hill Farmer’s Blues” similarly transcends its folkish roots and finds an epic arc, yet Knopfler can keep it light and matter-of-fact just a few tracks later with “Quality Shoe.” Still, RAGPICKER’S canonical status is afforded by its sheer vision. For all of its inherent darkness, it is a hopeful and idealistic record, a musical good times brew. While Knopfler sings with deep sadness of “A Place Where We Used to Live”, he also sums it all up in optimistic fashion with the title track. A “ragpicker”, says Merriam-Webster, is “one who collects rags and refuse for a livelihood.” Thus, THE RAGPICKER’S DREAM may well be the Knopfler album most representative of his vision, a collection of tracks yielding to the simple joys of human existence, a theme wondrously captured in the Elliott Erwitt photo that graces the cover. It’s a “mulligan stew” of pure delights, a feast of the “brotherhood of man.” Now go on and dig in.

Cohesion (5/5)
Concept (5/5)
Consequence (4/5)
Consistency (5/5)

Tracks:

1. Why Aye Man (5/5)
2. Devil Baby (5/5)
3. Hill Farmer’s Blues (5/5)
4. A Place Where We Used to Live (5/5)
5. Quality Shoe (5/5)
6. Fare Thee Well Northumberland (4/5)
7. Marbletown (5/5)
8. You Don’t Know You’re Born (4/5)
9. Coyote (4/5)
10. The Ragpicker’s Dream (5/5)
11. Daddy’s Gone to Knoxville (4/5)
12. Old Pigweed (5/5)

Mark Knopfler: Golden Heart (1996)

Mark Knopfler
Golden Heart; 1996
Warner Brothers
My Rating: 78/100
As frontman and artistic visionary for the wildly successful pub/prog act Dire Straits in the 1980’s, Mark Knopfler might not have become a household name but his signature guitar style was as omnipresent as the voice of Huey Lewis. After Straits fell apart in the early 90’s, Knopfler embarked on a solo career which begins with GOLDEN HEART. Judging from these results, leaving behind the overamibitious aspects of his mid-80’s work may have been the best move Knopfler could make. While acknowledging the requisite lyrical guitarism and flawless execution, Knopfler makes his greatest strides as a songwriter. There isn’t a skipper on here, which could only be said of one Straits album (their last, actually, ON EVERY STREET), and there are at least five songs that are as close to perfect as an artist can get. Additionally, Knopfler plays up the Celtic and Euro-continental influences, making this a world/roots rock record of sorts, a fabulous modernization of folk styles. With GOLDEN HEART, Knopfler artistically eclipsed the work he did in Dire Straits, and the great thing is, it keeps getting better from here.
Cohesion (4.5/5)
Concept (4.5/5)
Consequence (4.5/5)
Consistency (4.5/5)
Tracks:
1. Darling Pretty (4.5/5)
2. Imelda (4/5)
3. Golden Heart (5/5)
4. No Can Do (4/5)
5. Vic and Ray (4/5)
6. Don’t You Get It (5/5)
7. A Night in Summer Long Ago (4.5/5)
8. Cannibals (3.5/5)
9. I’m the Fool (5/5)
10. Je Suis Desole (4/5)
11. Rudiger (5/5)
12. Nobody’s Got the Gun (3.5/5)
13. Done with Bonaparte (5/5)
14. Are We in Trouble Now (3.5/5)

MK_Golden_HeartMark Knopfler
Golden Heart; 1996
Warner Brothers

My Rating: 78/100

As frontman and artistic visionary for the wildly successful pub/prog act Dire Straits in the 1980’s, Mark Knopfler might not have become a household name but his signature guitar style was as omnipresent as the voice of Huey Lewis. After Straits fell apart in the early 90’s, Knopfler embarked on a solo career which begins with GOLDEN HEART. Judging from these results, leaving behind the overamibitious aspects of his mid-80’s work may have been the best move Knopfler could make. While acknowledging the requisite lyrical guitarism and flawless execution, Knopfler makes his greatest strides as a songwriter. There isn’t a skipper on here, which could only be said of one Straits album (their last, actually, ON EVERY STREET), and there are at least five songs that are as close to perfect as an artist can get. Additionally, Knopfler plays up the Celtic and Euro-continental influences, making this a world/roots rock record of sorts, a fabulous modernization of folk styles. With GOLDEN HEART, Knopfler artistically eclipsed the work he did in Dire Straits, and the great thing is, it keeps getting better from here.

Cohesion (4.5/5)
Concept (4.5/5)
Consequence (4.5/5)
Consistency (4.5/5)

Tracks:

1. Darling Pretty (4.5/5)
2. Imelda (4/5)
3. Golden Heart (5/5)
4. No Can Do (4/5)
5. Vic and Ray (4/5)
6. Don’t You Get It (5/5)
7. A Night in Summer Long Ago (4.5/5)
8. Cannibals (3.5/5)
9. I’m the Fool (5/5)
10. Je Suis Desole (4/5)
11. Rudiger (5/5)
12. Nobody’s Got the Gun (3.5/5)
13. Done with Bonaparte (5/5)
14. Are We in Trouble Now (3.5/5)