“Ah shit, here comes the sun”. It’s been two years since we’ve heard any new music from Destroyer (four years if you’re not including his Spanish Language EP from 2013), and Dan Bejar’s cynicism seems as dry and plentiful as ever. For those accustomed to Bejar’s cryptic, witty lyricism, Poison Season– his tenth LP released under the Destroyer moniker- might feel like the long-awaited return of an old friend. During an interview with Pitchfork leading up to Poison Season’s release, Bejar gives a brief description of what he considers to be “Destroyer 101”: “the harrowing, terrible state of the world in flames in the background while some minor romantic drama plays out in the foreground…”. Keeping those circumstances in mind, his hatred of a new day rising seems rather understandable.
A simultaneously detesting and loving view of the world runs rampant throughout the record, and often times the lines are blurred. “Every murderer voted out of office is sold down the river/ Every time I try to look into your eyes, an angel flies by”, he murmurs on the aptly named ‘Hell’. Lines like these create more questions than they answer, and therein lies the power of Bejar as a lyricist: vague enough to be infinitely interpretable, yet human enough to generate a genuine, emotional response. Tracks on the record such as ‘Girl In a Sling’ find him at his most heartwarming, consoling the subject of the song, “Girl, I know what you’re going through/ I’m going there too”. But despite how comforting it is to hear his familiarly soothing voice, Poison Season does find Bejar making some new decisions musically.
If you’re like myself and have been listening to his 2011 LP Kaputt for the greater part of the past four years, the prospect of a new direction might sound terrifying. Between the sexy pop-sensibility of songs like ‘Chinatown’ and the breathtaking beauty of the eight-and-a-half-minute ‘Suicide Demo For Kara Walker’, Kaputt proved to be not only Destroyer’s most successful record, but- arguably- his best. Thankfully for those who hold this view, Poison Season manages to retain the core of what made Kaputt so memorable while still venturing into unexplored territory. ‘Times Square’, for example, serves not only as a gorgeous centerpiece to the record (and the strongest track, in this writer’s opinion) but also as a reminder of the power of the saxophone in Destroyer’s music. ‘Archer on the Beach’ and ‘Bangkok’ further reinforce this, as does ‘Dream Lover’, the first single released from the record and a song that showcases an interesting meeting place between Kaputt and the new album. It’s an infectious, saxophone-driven track, but not of the same sort found on their previous record. This time around, Bejar treads into waters that previous releases have hardly entered- think lovably cheesy seventies and eighties rock. Although he shares in the aforementioned Pitchfork interview that he “[doesn’t] really like Bruce Springsteen”, I will point out that a track entitled ‘The River’ appears on this LP.
As is often the case when artists decide to embrace new musical directions (no matter how subtle), some changes work better than others, and there are moments on Poison Season where I find myself reaching for my Kaputt CD or Destroyer’s Rubies record. The arrangements on the first track and ‘Hell’, for example, sound contrived and fail to hold my attention. Some of the songs on the album’s second half could have done with being shorter. However, the few pitfalls this LP does run into are more than made up for in the ways Poison Season excels, some of which- including the album’s often-brilliant percussion and the genius of ‘Midnight Meet the Rain’ in general- I didn’t even find time to discuss. It seems Bejar has only reaffirmed his position as one of the most respected and consistent songwriters alive today, and- for someone who has as much of an apparent distaste for humanity as he does- Bejar sure has a knack for keeping his listeners extremely satisfied.
ESSENTIAL TRACKS: TIMES SQUARE, BANGKOK, MIDNIGHT MEET THE RAIN
Written by Ben Weinstein