Destroyer – Poison Season
It’s been a long, long time since City Of Daughters, the first of Dan Bejar’s Destroyer albums to achieve wider distribution and recognition. Back then, in those heady days of 1998, he was the poet laureate of drinking in the park, a dissolute and languid lover scribbling guitar sketches of love for various women and hatred for the record industry. Since then he’s found a permanent place as the resident poet of the New Pornographers and slowly grown his image, developmentally and chronologically. He switched the mickey-in-a-paper-bag for fine bourbon, the ripped jeans for a crisp white linen suit, and the song-sketches for fully-realized instrumental smorgasbords. The density of his poetry developed alongside; by the time Destroyer’s Rubies came along in 2006, he was the poet laureate of the modern singer-songwriter.
Then came 2011 and Kaputt. At first the concept seemed absurd: it was an album deeply indebted to disco rhythms and the sounds of the early 1980s. It was, as both detractors and champions pointed out, the purest expression of yacht-rock that you could find. Despite its dubious influences, it worked amazingly well, garnering stellar reviews and numerous spots on year-end lists. The wider fame generated by the success of Kaputt also made Bejar more uncomfortable; having spent fifteen years taking potshots at the record industry,being caught up in it proved to be just as depressing as he’d imagined. This discomfort with the trappings of newfound fame explains both the four-year wait for Poison Season and the change in sound.
Poison Season is not a yacht-rock album. It is not a post-disco album. It is not a pop album, although Kaputt was never a strictly pop outing either. Instead, Poison Season is both a return and a progression. It’s a return to the sprawling singer-songwriter, the man in the open-chested white suit tickling the piano and singing literary songs of chasing lovers and lives. At the same time it’s much more than that. The sheer amount of instruments on any one given track can be overwhelming at times. It’s not just Bejar and a piano – it’s the piano, the strings, horns, dollops of full-throated saxophone, and a bit of guitar layered in for texture. On the two rockier tracks – “Dream Lover” and “Times Square” – it sounds uncommonly like the E Street Band before they left Asbury Park for the wider sounds of America. There’s a whiff of “Rosalita” and “Incident On 57th Street” here and there, although the Boss never went as fully chaotic as Bejar allows his band to go here. There are moments – like on the end of “Hell Is An Open Door” – where the songs descend into a maelstrom of instruments, furiously playing off of one another like a hurricane of sound. In the middle of it all, Bejar’s voice brings everything together, the anchor for the yacht in the middle of the fury.
If Kaputt was a (relatively) sunny album, a daytime album, Poison Season is the nighttime album. The yacht has docked and Bejar and Co. are playing on the beach to a crowd of well-heeled degenerates looking to party genteely until dawn. When dawn comes, it’s a surprise; “Oh shit, here comes the sun,” he gasps in surprise on the sax-drenched “Dream Lover”, and it’s a change from his previous embrace of the all-night escapade on “Here Comes The Nighttime”, from This Night. This is not an isolated self-reference, either; as usual, Bejar peppers his lyrics with backlinks to previous songs from Thief, This Night, and Your Blues. If you think you’ve heard a line before, you probably have, and it comes across as usual as a wink-and-nod to the people that have stuck with him across the wide gulf of years that separate drinking in the park from drinking at an open bar on a private beach.
If there’s a line that can sum up the feelings brought about by Poison Season, it’s “Bitter tears, bitter pills / it sucks when there’s nothing but gold in those hills”, from “Girl In A Sling”. That is to say, it may suck for Bejar to be cursed with a sense of style and flair that has proven popular, but for me listening it’s nothing less than triumphant. Destroyer will likely continue to be a popular unit, regardless of Bejar’s feelings on the matter, and for the rest of us that’s quite alright.