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Review: Destroyer - Poison Season

Review: Destroyer – Poison Season

| On 15, Sep 2015

With Poison Season, Destroyer have channeled the melancholy of mid 50’s Sinatra and the swagger of early 70’s Bowie into an album that somehow sounds both original and cohesive.

Eleven albums in most bands are running on empty, forced to use their past glory for kindling to keep the creative fire going. With their eleventh album, Destroyer have released one of the grandest artistic statements of their career.

The bookending title track Times Square, Poison Season I is squarely in the Sinatra mode, introducing a sumptuous string section that weaves through the entire album, underscoring its woozy romanticism. “Jesus is beside himself/Jacob’s in a state of decimation,” frontman  Dan Bejar sings earnestly on the opener, and not for the last time. The song is revisited not just in the complimentary closer (Times Square, Poison Season II) but in the middle of the album as a straight ahead 70’s rocker.

The different versions allow Bejar to place different emphasis on his characteristically evocative but enigmatic lyrics. The words remain the same, but he lends them different stresses, allowing different meanings to emerge. When he sings “You could fall in love with Time Square,” it could be an invitation or a warning.

It’s an interesting choice given that this must surely be the shortest lyric sheet in Destroyer history. Bejar is no longer stuffing his songs with novella-length lyrics that act as a challenging counterpoint to the music. Instead he’s letting his words breathe, using his voice as delicately and deliberately as every other instrument on the album. Which isn’t to say it gets lost, because Bejar has never sounded better. Long evolved past his Dylan-esque rasp, in songs like Girl In a Sling he’s singing with the precise diction of a big band singer without sacrificing any of his unique phrasing.

Perhaps the closest relation to this era of Destroyer is Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. It’s hard to think of another group that can so adeptly switch from torch song to saxophone lead street rock to boogie rhythms all while sounding like the same band. Midnight Meet the Rain opens with brass stabs that would make Isaac Hayes proud, before moving into a driving power chord progression that sounds like The Band at their most exhilarating. Archer on the Beach meanwhile grooves along on a sultry bass line accentuated by dramatic horns that wouldn’t be out of place in a classic film noir. 

Listeners who discovered Destroyer via 2011’s surprise hit Kaputt might be surprised to find how fully they’ve divested themselves of that record’s synth driven sheen. But they can rest a little easier knowing that surprise is the natural state of a Destroyer fan. Every album is a dramatic shift from the last, yet they all sound decidedly like Destroyer. Poison Season cashes in on its predecessor’s success, luring new listeners into a darkly romantic and wholly unique record. Or as Bejar puts it in Forces From Above, “I got paid then I wrote a song/I got paid and then I rode a song/Into the heavens”.