Many layers to peel back
Some records you can “get” after the first listen through; it’s not that they’re shallow or low quality, it’s just easy to see how the different parts of the different songs hold each other together. Some records are intentionally oblique, trying to construct an illusion of meaning and depth, where the artist is trying to be edgy in the way they’ve put together their album. Destroyer’s 10th record, Poison Seasons, falls into neither of these categories. That being said, let’s take a look at some of the component songs.
“Dream Lover” has an E-Street Band “bigness” to it. It might be the prominent saxophone work, or the refrain about lovers on the run, or the anthemic expansiveness – but something about this song just screams Springsteen. It’s the kind of song that could be employed equally well under the triumphant closing credits of a romantic comedy or under the opening credits of a Lifetime movie where the protagonist’s life goes to pieces, leading them to rebuild a more satisfying life.
“The River” is reminiscent of Coney Island Baby in tone and delivery, jazzy and soulful with just enough bite to emphasize the urban grit of the subject. The song is backed with an underlying sense of melancholy muted by optimism. It’s laidback enough to be seductive, but the energy is expertly directed and conducted; raw power washes in and out, pulling the listener through a complex maze of emotions. “Midnight Meet the Rain” alternates between the intensity and explosive punch of an Isaac Hayes soundtrack and the introspective reflection of a Kurt Weill flavored torch song. It’s a very interesting study in contrast.
The triptych of “Times Square, Poison Season I,” “Times Square,” and “Times Square, Poison Season II” tie the album together and divide it into two roughly equal halves. There is a plastic soul groove that blends with the rest of the record while standing apart from it, musical signposts.
“Forces from Above,” “Hell,” “Girl in a Sling,” “Archer on the Beach,” and the rest are the songs you feel you’re supposed to like but are hard to fully get your arms around. Academically and structurally there is a lot to appreciate in these songs. There’s early-career Marc Bolan-styled vocals, strings that are pure chamber pop, some free-jazz piano work and plenty of other interesting elements. It’s the sort of mixture that doesn’t seem sloppy, haphazard or random, but requires some time and repeat listenings. The fact that they’re hard nuts to crack is frustrating in the best way possible, driving the listener to reframe and re-engage with the work.
There’s a lot to unpack on this record, there is really no other way to say it, and I can attest that even after many repeated listenings it is still possible to not entirely grok this album. Appreciate it? Yes. Fully understand it, no.