Album Review: Destroyer – Poison Season

‘Destroyer’ is an unusual name for a band which doesn’t make music with pentangles on their album covers… but then Destroyer is not a conventional band. The Canadian outfit first released in 1996 and this is their tenth record; but the band aren’t tiring. In fact, they only really hit their stride halfway in. Now, poetic and idiosyncratic, Destroyer are endlessly refreshing in sincerity and striking in quality to the point that, to quote lead singer Dan Bejar, they really are “tearing shit apart” in their own way.

With his forlorn figure the only image on the album cover, Poison Season sees Bejar front and centre which, for music so set-apart by its lyrical quality, is no surprising thing. Bajar’s words scatter without much narrative or purpose upon the airy music of Destroyer’s creation, interjecting with wistful nuggets “take it from me, leave London…” he mutters on ‘The River’ (see, even he knows) and on three of the songs he coos “the writing on the wall, wasn’t writing at all.” It’s unclear what he means at times, but there’s always an intelligence and wit to his words. His voice, meanwhile, is not his strong suit, it could technically just be called bad, because he can barely hold a note. However, like Dylan, or Win Butler, or Shaun Bonnette of Andrew Jackson Jihad, his passion carries him through. He may not fill your ears with honey but his emotion definitely pours out of these tracks, and after a time his scattered, wistful stylings actually become a selling point of this thing, and brilliantly Destroyer have turned his unique sound into something of a staple.

Poison Season sees Destroyer doubling down on their assets, and damn near all of it is thoroughly grin inducing.

The highlight of previous LP Kaputt came when it felt like a stream of suppressed tension was set free on the mammoth final track ‘Bay of Pigs’ and an insanely danceable acoustic riff was let loose. On Poison Season the whole record feels like the bastard offspring of that song, filled with those sorts of explosive moments. ‘Midnight Meet The Rain’ for example: is insane. Featuring horn spikes which sound like something out of Austin Powers, with kick drums and bongo drums exploding all over the place, and a delicious sax solo riding the track home: it’s the sort of thing you could see Kung Fury wrestle dinosaurs to. Add that to the lashings of drums trying to knock an outrageous guitar thrash off kilter, and Bejar proclaiming “I’ve got no interest in getting dressed today/To go outside and play a game you know so well” it’s a rare instance where a Destroyer track does live up to their rock-god name. ‘Hell’ is similarly explosive in its second half; ‘Dream Lover’ and ‘The River’ too, in other words this record sees Destroyer doubling down on their assets, and damn near all of it is thoroughly grin inducing.

Take the guitar sound on ‘Times Square’ for example – from the first chord strike it sounds like there is a small Canadian man with an afro strumming his guitar in your ear canal. Like pigs on a wing, Poison Season is opened and closed by an orchestral version of the track, where the violins sound truly fantastic. There are many moments where the instruments on this LP just pop; from the flute solo at the end of ‘Hell’ (yes – flute) and on the chaotic drums snap in the fifth verse of  ‘Sun In The Sky’ and the crackle as Bejar croaks “bombs goes off in your eye”… it’s an inspired moment.

Destroyer are really treating us sonically on this record, and placing it for a spin is like chowing down on a banquet of sound.

With such dynamic musical splashes it’s only natural that some of the softer tracks here would get overshadowed. Despite having some gorgeous strings, ‘Forces From Above’ doesn’t stand out as much as it could, especially lyrically, while the jazziest track here, ‘Archer on the Beach’ shows that when too subdued the pseudo-musak of Destroyer’s last two records can sound a little too like the real deal. That’s not to say that all delicate moments are overwhelmed though, the slight ‘Solace’s Bride’ is as pretty as its title and ‘Bangkok’ is an album highlight, with Bejar’s “I’ve been around the world, worn a million pearls” and gently pulsating strings and horns turning the wistfulness factor up to eleven.

It might not be for everyone, no album of the past few years really sounds like this save for Destroyer’s last, even though the band do sort of channel the 80’s cheese resurgence which is so trendy at the minute. But it’s also a little out of time because so little these days is so openly keen to please and treat the ears as the songs on this LP. Destroyer has no edge – its young-person’s Dad-music; their last two album covers were a fuzzy haze, not a bold statement. And that’s not to say it’s full of party bangers or that every song is a happy one – but the sounds are so rich and the instruments so diverse and crystal clear that they’re really treating us sonically on this record, and placing it for a spin is like chowing down on a banquet of sound. You can tell Destroyer had an absolute blast enriching Dan Bejar’s moments of sadness and confusion with music and melody, and when it’s on, it enriches mine too.

Liam Inscoe – Jones

Liam is currently listening to ‘What You Don’t Do’ by Lianne La Havas

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Co-Editor of the Music Section at University of Nottingham’s IMPACT Magazine.

2 Comments on this post.
  • Jim tuckman
    22 August 2015 at 18:03
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    ‘Bangkok’ is the best of the instantly accessible tracks but is certainly not the best on the album. You can’t listen to this album 3 times and expect to be able to review it. It needs a good 6 or 7 listens before you can really grasp of all of the tracks.

    • Liam Inscoe-Jones
      27 August 2015 at 10:29
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      I did this, had an advance preview so let it sit with me a while – and I agree Bangkok isn’t the best on the album, I never said it was

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