Friday, August 28, 2015

Destroyer - Poison Season Review

By the end of Poison Season it’s clear Dan Bejar has an immense love of New York City. So much so that the album seems, more than anything else, an ode to the city and all the love it fosters. Its been four years since Destroyer released Kaputt, a record that finally cemented Dan Bejar as one of Indie’s smooth idealists, an artist entranced with the 60’s and 70’s Folk Rock offshoot, so much so as to devout his artistry to modernizing it. His vocals reek of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, the lyrics seep endlessly into romantic melodramas, and the instrumentation is bare bones but bright enough to warrant attention. On his latest LP, the 10th from the group, Bejar takes a deviated step into orchestral territory, substituting his primary guitars and drums for saxophones, flutes, and keyboards. What remains is an intriguing listen where the positions are shifted, the background suddenly becomes the focus, but the relentlessly straight-laced poetics and the lulling drowners derail a potentially artist-defining album. 

Poison Season is neatly packaged around the falsified image Times Square has garnered through films, the one that neglects the downtrodden nature of the city and looks at it through the wide-eyed wonder of the tourists capturing it via flashes, where romances form and graffiti looks towards the brighter side of things. In essence, sound included, it mimics the opening sequence of SNL. Fashioned as the centerpiece ‘Times Square’ conjoins the book-ended tracks for a slow-burning Rock ballad, strongly deviating from its more orchestral parts opening and closing the album. It’s a unique vision that encompasses the record in this strangely deranged fanaticism with the poetic side of NYC, and love in general. In fact Poison Season seems to loosely follow a girls obsession with the city. On ‘The River’ “she despises the direction the city’s been going in,” while on the follow-up, ‘Girl In A Sling,’ she wanders at the lusting nature of it all, as Bejar can relate, “it sucks when there’s nothing but gold in those hills, girl, I know what you’re going through.” If anything, the message portrayed in Poison Season is that those living in the lap of luxury still, at times when they’ve reached an end, feel the need to escape. The bright lights, the vibrant street life, the angelic instrumentation, all too much to handle when a breaking point occurs. 

Elsewhere Destroyer seems plagued by the temptive nature of it all. On ‘Solace’s Bride’ she’s “been having second thoughts,” while the vision of a new city on ‘Bangkok’ has one considering escaping to a new life. Each track here develops this waning sensation of lust, a battle between the clear desires of a fresh start and the captured image still attached of a city once loved. How it’s told though seems to be Destroyer’s biggest pitfall, as the lyrics, frankly, are boring. They’re vapidly one dimensional, solely relying on Bejar’s calming vocals to guide them, which he does successfully to an extent, to another though they’re stodgy. Everything hits too clearly on the nose, reaching for cliched highs and cheesy lows at every bend. On ‘Hell’ he mouths these two sentiments within seconds of each other, “I was born bright, now I’m dark as a well” emerges just after “baby it’s dumb, look what I’ve become, scum.” The lines seem plucked from amateur hour in the poetry corner, or the books delegated to the bottom of the barrel. Add in the sometimes nulling instrumentation and you’re set for a few snoozers that gather momentum like grandma on a Sunday drive.

When Poison Season hits though, it thrives. The lead single ‘Dream Lover’ is the prime example of that, and with obvious reason. It’s a rambunctious journey through the city on New Years night as horns, drums, chimes, and a saxophone gather steam with a ferocity that’s unmatched anywhere here. It’s the clear standout and one of the best tracks of the year. Despite the questionably damp lyrics ‘Hell’ retains enjoyment off its orchestration alone, using trumpets, flutes, and violins to reenact the Big Apple Circus to superb effect. Really what allows Poison Season to maintain relevance is its production, flipping Indie Rock on its head, choosing to relinquish guitars and drums to a secondary role, giving a primary focus to instruments typically used as one-off joy rides. It’s as if the memorable moments of Deerhunter’s ‘Coronado,’ M83’s ‘Midnight City,’ and Panda Bear’s ‘Tropic Of Cancer’ all collide, making for an exuberant release that panders to Classical Jazz and Blues. Unfortunately, those genres, when done poorly, tend to veer into monotony and that occurs here as well, with tracks like ‘Archer On The Beach’ and ‘Sun In The Sky’ that best be suited to wallow in an elevator at a suave hotel.

There’s a time and place to appreciate Destroyer’s latest, which makes for its overall appreciation to be questionable. If you're trotting down the city streets under romantic starlight or shopping at a fancy boutique Poison Season shines under its characteristics of hitting the pleasure points. But outside that realm it lacks the impact Kaputt and others before it shone. The choice of instrumentation was a worthwhile one but one that aimed at exposing risks of those instruments’ potential for boredom, at which, more often than not, Destroyer showcases. The best moments here are the brightest, filled with flashing lights, rickety acoustics, and vocals that beam with lyrics that instill an emotion rather than totter in tedium. You can never now knock Bejar for expanding his range, dipping in foreign genres long since extinct to craft a sound exposing the modernized character of New York City, love, and the fine, delicate interwoven nature of it all. Poison Season though harbors too many lulls between the showcases to label it a momentous occasion for 2015. It’s rather a skipping stone in Destroyer’s career, a risk that, rather than defining the artist or ruining their run, middles in an uncomfortably bland place. 

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