Destroyer - Poison Season - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Destroyer - Poison Season

by Hayden Harman Rating:8 Release Date:2015-08-28

In the world of popular music there are artists who, because of their musical or lyrical mastery (usually both), are bestowed with a literary gravity that separates them from the rest as authors and auteurs. Capital-A Artists like Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Scott Walker, and younger cult acts like Silver Jews (David Berman), The Mountain Goats (John Darnielle), and Bonnie 'Prince' Billy (Will Oldham) fall into this category. Each new release from these artists marks a new development within their respective, uniquely creative visions, just like we talk about the novels of Toni Morrison or David Foster Wallace.

Dan Bejar’s 20-year-old Destroyer project fits nicely next to the aforementioned musicians. Like them, he has released a consistent stream of albums that have garnered almost universal critical acclaim and a devoted fan base. Destroyer’s tenth and latest studio album, Poison Season, is the first full-length studio effort since the group’s 2011 masterwork, Kaputt. That album seemed to arrive at the perfect time, when the

renaissance was in full swing. The songs were a perfect combination of high-brow lyricism and jazzy-grooves that even the most self-conscious of hipsters could not resist dancing to. Kaputt also won over many new fans, who by 2013, were eager for a follow-up album that would deliver like its predecessor.

What they got instead was a five-song EP of covers by Spanish alternative musician, Antonio Luque, of the band

.” In hindsight, Five Spanish Songs seems similar to the process of Dylan recording old standards with the Band in upstate New York or Brian Wilson playing “Be My Baby” for hours alone at a piano: those were all ways of the artists clearing their heads to get into a creative mindset.

On Poison Season, Bejar has returned to writing in English and appears to have fully cleared his head of the clutter that comes with following-up a commercial success. He sounds confident and completely out-of step with what is current or “hip” in new music. Poison Season’s easy-listening vibe is not passive or boring, but assertive and engaging. The only album I’ve heard this year that sounds like it could be a distant cousin is Jim O’Rourke’s fantastic Simple Songs. Like that album, this kind of orchestrated rock sounds timeless, like it could have been recorded in any decade since the ‘60s.

Destroyer albums are not easily reduced to one-sentence thematic summaries, but if I had to do it, I would say that Poison Season is the sound of an advertisement full of empty promises. That is manifest in the recurring imagery of Times Square. It’s a dazzling place, but one where “Jesus is beside himself” and “the writing on the wall wasn’t writing at all.” It recalls Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig’s recent film collaboration,

, which also references that iconic location. Like Bejar’s, their Times Square is an exciting, stimulating place where dreams are made as fast as they are crushed.

Every Destroyer album contains lines that stick with the listener based on personal life experience. The sentimentality of the album's second single, “

,” rings truest to me right now: “I’ve been sifting through these remains for years/ bitter tears/ bitter pills/ oh, it sucks when there’s nothing but gold in those hills/ girl, I know what you’re going through, I’m going there too.” The music on this track, and throughout the whole album, expertly compliments the lyrics. Right as Bejar sings the above lyrics, the string arrangement swells, sounding like unseen angels who are quiet observers of that solitary pain.

The album alternates between smooth-sounding, string-laden ballads to harder, full-band rockers. The album rises and falls, like hope constantly drifting in and out. On some of the heavier tracks, like the earnest “Dream Lover” or the jangly “Hell,” Bejar channels his inner Springsteen, with the band sounding like a possessed E Street Band. The success of Poison Season is due in large part to the stellar band and clean production techniques that compliment Bejar’s delicate voice.

Poison Season is another great step forward in a continuous line of solid Destroyer albums. It expands on Kaputt’s similar themes about intangible emptiness and the untruths, or poison, that we see on screens and tell ourselves everyday. Bejar’s raises his voice like a prophet, warning us all that the poison season is already upon us. “It’s hell down here/ it’s hell,” he cries on “Hell.” On “Midnight Meet the Rain” he sings, “You’ve been standing on deep waters,” with the insight of someone who sees the depths of all there is to lose. But we are not alone in this great swirl of lies: he knows what we’re going through, because he’s going there too.

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