This ‘Destroyer’ article was written by Alistair Ryder, a GIGsoup Contributor
Close to two decades after first appearing on Vancouver’s underground music scene with an album comprised entirely of lo-fi, out of tune recordings, Destroyer’s Dan Bejar has evolved as much as physically possible from such humble origins. ‘Poison Season’, Destroyer’s tenth studio album, is populated with a plethora of sweeping string arrangements and Springsteen influenced anthems- it isn’t hard to imagine this new album being the source of a minor mainstream breakthrough; a gateway drug to two decades of experimental pop music for a new audience.
Even as Bejar’s recordings have made a full evolutionary leap in nineteen years, with many albums sounding like they were made by completely different artists, his abstract lyricism has remained intact. On previous albums, it often made you try and find a deeper meaning in what was likely to have just been written and conceived as nonsense. Here, Bejar seems to be undergoing what is commonly referred to as “Anthony Keidis syndrome”- he is using elipitical, nonsensical lyrics for no other reason than they sound cool. This wouldn’t be a big problem, were it not for the orchestral arrangements throughout that seem to be hinting at an emotional connection that the elliptical lyrics can’t really provide.
In fact, for a man cherished for his unusual writing style, for the first time his lyrics seem quite lazy; on ‘The River’ he tells us “Escape from New York, Escape From LA, take it from me, leave London”, like a man who has just finished watching a boxset of Kurt Russell movies and has no other lyrical inspiration. Elsewhere, we have three variations on ‘Times Square’ (the second of which is the literal and figurative centrepiece), all of which tell us that “the writing on the wall, isn’t writing at all”, before listing a number of things that are actually written on the wall, directly after informing us about a lack of writing.
All three versions of ‘Times Square’ are perfect pop songs of the variety that are so irresistible, you are likely to be singing along without ever really listening to the words- Bejar has ensured that this doesn’t matter, as you are only going to be left scratching your head as to whether the writing is on or off the wall if you pay attention to what he is singing. This isn’t to say that the lyrics aren’t at times at fantastic- ‘Archer on the Beach’ tells us that “The Ass King’s made of asses, the ice queen’s native snow” with an unabashed sincerity that doesn’t seem phased by the sheer nonsense of such a statement.
As you can expect from an album with three variations on the same song, it does frequently feel unfocused, making for one of the more frustrating listening experiences of the year- you can clearly hear the greatness within; it just hasn’t been properly channeled. ‘Archer on the Beach’ is an alternate version of a song recorded in 2010 in collaboration with Tim Hecker, showing that he is even mining forgotten parts of his back catalogue in order to make them sound of a piece with his latest work. For an artist defined by his willingness to change his sound with every album, returning to previous recordings seems at odds with the genre shape-shifting we have come to expect.
You are left thinking of the John Lennon quote about him always hearing things wrong with a song after releasing it, wondering if Bejar felt exactly the same. After all, it has taken four years to follow his last album (the longest gap between Destroyer albums) and he’s released something that doesn’t feel properly finished. You can imagine him listening back to this album and believing that they represent nothing more than demos that don’t sound fully realised, no matter how many orchestras appear within.
‘Poison Season’ is undoubtedly Destroyer’s most accessible album, for the most part channeling Bejar’s trademark lyrical non-sequiturs into something more radio friendly. Repeat listens may prove wrong, but you can’t help but shake the fact you have a notorious im-perfectionist trying his hand at crafting musical perfection- something that makes for an uneven album of equal highs and lows.
‘Poison Season’ is out on the 28th August 2015 via Merge Records and Dead Oceans Records.