Shortly into Poison Season, the latest release from Dan Bejar’s Destroyer, he mutters the lines: “I’ll take my chances on the road/On the inside I’m an ocean/Like a wheel set into motion into the storm”. Words like these in the hands of a lesser assured artist would likely ring hollow or vain. In the hands of Bejar though, they simply serve to confidently reinforce his creative spark and desire to follow his muse down any path it carries. Four years after the highly celebrated release of Kaputt, Bejar has flipped the script and returned with an album that bears little sonic resemblance to the 80’s lite-rock aesthetic that brought Bejar that biggest acclaim of his nearly two-decade career. Instead, his often witty and frequently arcane vignettes crackle with the seasoned air of studio musicianship brought forth by the live, in-the-moment recording process utilized this time around over the spontaneity and haphazard stops and starts previously favored.
Rolling deep in genuflection to his self-proclaimed musical idols-Dylan, Bowie, Van Morrison, and Joni Mitchell-the album’s 13 tracks shuffle unobtrusively along with subtle lyrical aplomb and coolly elegant melodic texture. Behind the practiced cohesiveness of his touring band, the sound morphs from Kaputt’s nervy iPhone-esque blips and beeps into jazzy horn and piano notes and lushly arranged string arrangements. It’s a shadowy sound that at times brings to mind Bejar sitting atop a barstool on a dusty saloon stage while at other times serving as the brooding score to a puzzling film noir. It’s pretty much all essential listening that flows by with surprising cohesiveness and connection.
In regards to Bejar’s earlier references, they’re all present. “Dream Lover” gallops along with a strutting late-period Van Morrison vibe that also wouldn’t be out of place cast as one of Bejar’s contributions to his part-time outfit New Pornographers. The frenetic Joni Mitchell style wordplay is evident on late-album tracks “Solace’s Bride” and “Sun in the Sky”, two examples of Bejar’s gift of cramming a novella’s worth of words into the compact structure of a song. “Times Square” (the middle composition-not the two versions that bookend the album) is anchored by a melody reminiscent of Bowie’s “Young Americans” while also boasting one of the album’s coolest phrases: “You can follow a rose wherever it grows or you can fall in love with Times Square”. Perhaps not the coolest sentiment circa 2015, but Bejar makes it seem like the only place to be when visiting the Big Apple.
Fortunately, though, the new sound keeps Bejar’s voice front and center as he narrates tales of urban confusion, unfulfilled dreams, and the often cruel hands of fate. Of course, being Bejar, there’s an awful lot of those “WTF?”/“What is he talking about?” moments scattered throughout the album. All the better, though, as his eccentric musings make for entertaining repeated listens and dinner table conversation (the album works nicely as a dinner or wine-sipping soundtrack). It doesn’t all work, but even some of the skeptical moments -the lounge music ebb of “Archer on the Beach”, the clunky, slightly clichéd lyrics of “The River” -tend to work within the context of the album. In the age of scattered listening habits, the type of nuance Bejar brings to Poison Season could get lost in the shuffle. It’s an album that works best when listened to in its’ entirety in the order in which it’s sequenced. This is really the best way to appreciate the madcap perspective and crafty vision that lies at the heart of most of Destroyer’s work. This collection will be a solid entry to muse over for a while, as Bejar continues to chase his creative energy throughout the confines of his endlessly flowing mind.