The first full-length Destroyer release since 2011's charting Kaputt -- with the Antonio Luque-penned Five Spanish Songs EP, and his bands the New Pornographers and Hello, Blue Roses' Brill Bruisers and WZO, respectively, dropping in the interim -- 2015's Poison Season marks prolific songsmith Dan Bejar's tenth LP with the project, and it's an intensely wistful, strings- and horns-washed epic exploration of New York city life. At nearly an hour in length, it feels immense, but more so from its unexpectedly cinematic stylings than from playing time -- with rotating, scene-setting arrangements (rock, jazz, chamber music) and beat-poetic narrative vignettes of a gritty reality seemingly from another time, or another mind. The string ensemble arrangements on the sparse opener, "Times Square, Poison Season I," proclaim yet another change in texture between albums for Bejar. It's a dramatically haunting, impressionistic, talky piece that could serve as an opening to an ominous musical, with lyrics like "The writing on the wall wasn't writing at all/Just forces of nature in love with a weather station," and later "You can follow a rose wherever it grows/Oh, you could fall in love with Times Square." Traces of Kaputt's sophisti-pop linger in the horns, piano, and delicate, extended guitar chords of "The River," on the tender "Solace's Bride," and on the sultry, jazzy "Archer on the Beach," but Poison Season stands alone thus far in Destroyer's catalog. Track highlights include the rocking "Dream Lover" that blasts Lou Reed's New York ("All the signs are saying 'This Way'"), the '70s crime show theme-invaded "Midnight Meet the Rain," and the three versions of "Times Square" (chamber music, '70s Bowie/Springsteen/Reed, chamber music), though the album really is a whole best heard by its submitted design. Theatrical songs, like the expansive "Forces from Above" -- with strings, synth noises, Latin percussion, a full drum kit passage, soaring, atmospheric saxophone, and Bejar's fragile near-whisper -- and the bouncy yet intensely forlorn "Hell" ("Baby, it's dumb. Look at what I've become - scum. A relic. A satellite") create lush snapshots within a steamy street mosaic. Co-produced by frequent Destroyer and New Pornographers collaborator David Carswell, there's no new mastermind involved here, just the bewildering Bejar, and nearly 20 years on, Destroyer is still as surprising and inspired as ever. "I got paid and then I wrote a song. I got paid and then I rode a song into the heavens."
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AllMusic Review by Marcy Donelson