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On Poison Season, Destroyer broadens its sound with oddball charm intact

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Destroyer

Album: Poison Season
Label: Merge Records

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The press materials for Poison Season, the 11th record Dan Bejar has recorded under the name Destroyer, cite David Bowie’s chamber-pop classic Hunky Dory as an influence this time around. The touchstones—ornate strings, piano flourishes—are certainly there, but Poison Season is a looser, less-constrained affair. With its saxophones, bongos, and violins, it’s more of a Young Americans-Hunky Dory hybrid.

About those saxophones. As on his previous record, 2011’s Kaputt, saxes act here as a through-line amid stylistic and lyrical shifts. On Kaputt, Bejar used the instrument to conjure the hazy atmosphere of Roxy Music; on Poison Season, the saxophone wails like Clarence Clemons solos (as on the blazing “Dream Lover”) and provides a sultry backdrop to Bejar’s fever-dream imagery (“The River”).

“Times Square” is the album’s centerpiece. With its galloping conga drums, steadfast acoustic guitars and, yes, saxophones, the song is a pop confection of the highest order. Its sunny groove pauses for each chorus, when Bejar, in his signature speak-singing, says, “You can follow a rose wherever it grows,” as a piano delicately descends. Bejar then brings back the groove with the line, “Or you could fall in love with Times Square,” a tension release rivaled by few songs so far this year.

The rest of Poison Season is more disheveled and unpredictable, but charmingly so. “Hell” is so string-heavy it’s downright baroque, until a plaintive trumpet echoes Bejar’s lilting melody. From there, the song breaks into a clap-along pop song backed by a horn section, with Bejar singing, “It’s hell down here, it’s hell” as the cacophony grows behind him. Elsewhere, Bejar is joined by dark, moody funk (“Archer On The Beach”), stately piano (“Bangkok”), and lush, weepy strings (“Girl In A Sling”), but nothing about Poison Season sounds inconsistent.

As on his previous records, as well as his work with The New Pornographers, Bejar sounds completely comfortable in any setting. No matter what the context—horn-section rave-up, string quartet, druggy miasma—he sounds completely at home. Poison Season is the sound of an artist in complete control of the strange chaos around him.