While membership in Canadian power-pop supergroup The New Pornographers brought attention from a generation of indie-rock fans, Dan Bejar was already two albums deep into his solo project, Destroyer. Bejar’s earliest albums reveled in glam at a time when such archness and excess stood at odds with the prevailing trends in independent music. But as Bejar got out his T. Rex and David Bowie side via the increasingly knotty songs he contributed to The New Pornographers, Destroyer’s own albums got progressively more obtuse, be it in the MIDI flourishes of 2004’s Your Blues or the acoustic-electric guitar twists of Trouble In Dreams.
But with 2011’s Kaputt, Bejar and his poetic, perpetually unspooling lyricism found its most fertile sound bed to date. His ’70s rock fixation gave way to the glossy tones of the early 1980s, imagining a parallel world wherein T. Rex’s Marc Bolan survived into the new decade and decided to use Steely Dan‘s session men. Here, Bejar’s cantankerous, acidic lines were couched in the smoothest of jazz, the anger giving way to the melancholic, the bitter pill sipped with some cognac. And that sax! Such sounds carry over to the 10th Destroyer album, Poison Season, on which the heaving strings in “Times Square, Poison Season I” are lush enough to soundtrack a soap opera.
That saxophone bursts back into view with “Dream Lover,” as if Clarence Clemons had mistaken Bejar’s studio for Bruce Springsteen‘s. More sax skronk also appears in “Midnight Meet The Rain,” its conga-laced beat and wah-wah guitar bringing to mind a ’70s cop-show theme song. But nothing can ever be that straight-ahead for Bejar, who brings everything to a complete stop mid-song, to where a stool can be heard creaking in the room before everything revs back up to full speed.
As is often the case in Bejar’s work, he touches upon the rock music that came before him, his whispers on Poison Season bringing to mind the likes of Bryan Ferry‘s weary playboy circa Avalon, as well as Al Stewart’s gentle croon on Year Of The Cat. But Destroyer is judicious to draw from the more neglected corners of the canon, too. Certain turns of phrase bring to mind singers like Scott Walker and Harry Nilsson when they’d all but sabotaged their careers, avoiding all the concessions of pop in favor of their own muses’ peculiar paths.
There may be no more elegant moment in Bejar’s catalog than “Girl In A Sling,” which begins with electronic ambient washes that twinkle like stars. Almost a minute in, strings and woodwinds appear and overtake the song, gracefully carrying it off into dreamland. When Bejar’s voice comes back, it’s the sound of him approximating Harry Nilsson when he himself did his best approximation of Frank Sinatra‘s In The Wee Small Hours. “I’m been sifting through these remains for years / Bitter tears / Bitter pills / Oh, it sucks when there’s nothing but gold in those hills,” Bejar sings in his cracked coo, before he returns to the task of mining discarded sounds and reclaiming them.
First Listen: Destroyer, 'Poison Season'
Album: Poison Season