As with the first noises of most Destroyer albums — the sandy processed reverb snare on “Kaputt,” the distortion power chords on “Rubies,” the tacky choral synth of “Your Blues,” to name just three albums that open impeccably — you will be welcomed to “Poison Season” reasonably convinced that Dan Bejar is just screwing with you. Like, oh noooo, he found another gnarly sound. A fresh ride around the crinkly lip of the roller derby rink of acceptable music!
Is music a joke? What does the sound of a group of instruments playing together now mean? Is emotion a joke? Most disgusting is that human bodies are brimming percolators of feeling — emotions kept hidden in secret, until they vomit overboard with a raised eyebrow or a fist or some gross tears. Actors are disgusting to society and are made fun of because they reach in for a handful of the acid and then splatter themselves AND they do it for money. Songwriters are celebrated too when they go for it, but they’re booed if they don’t go all in or not far enough. In the middle they are just treacle or pat or cheesy or gay. The main nasty feeling expressed by music for three decades has been lust. Banging was a Hot Topic of rock, sure, but sexy fuckability is pretty much all that inorganic electronica could support on the long road from Moroder to Skrillex. Knowing about camp made everyone a chilly sex bot, hiding away all that earnest horniness inside us. The computers won. The 80s gave up. But then finally the late great teen movement of emo came in to bring all the non-fucking feelings back. Goth the sequel came out with the great lady song-singers, and now we’re here at last on the far side of disco with music made by hand. Now even Skrillex wants you to feel.
“Poison Season” is an inexcusable album! It is so revolting. Here on the one hand we have that big Supertramp sound. It’s the musical Disney forgot to write and then discard, plus a wee bit of Bread and the old invasion of big jazz. That’s at least three incarnations of the besmirched music of earnestness. One time there’s a little bit of Prince even, from the end of the strings in the end of “Purple Rain,” which is the Certified Best Song Of 200 Songs Of The 1980s, according to Pitchfork, which has three women solo artists in its top 20 songs and one woman artist in its top ten, and THAT WOMAN ISN’T MADONNA EVEN. The phenomenally ahistorical list, which keeps talking about “singles” from albums that never saw the light of radio, does at least give Tom Tom Club, Sheila E., Public Enemy and Sade their basic due, even while dispatching the gays with a couple tracks like “Smalltown Boy,” but no CULTURE CLUB, and a WHITNEY HOUSTON track tops out at number 20, which is idiocy! Unlike that list — which omits entirely the legendary likes of Sinead O’Connor, Annabella Lwin and Debora Iyall, the queens of Bow Wow Wow and Romeo Void? And, uh, Japan??? And even Missing Persons and Berlin, and dear old Siouxsie Sioux clocks in once at #156, and Blondie tops out at #90 — “Poison Season” isn’t fake nostalgia, not reconstituted imagined sentiment, because it’s officially Not Cute. These are the organic married flavors mostly last seen in the live shows of 1981.
I mean fuck you Pitchfork.
It’s not camp unless someone’s in on the joke, and here now there’s not even a joke. The sickest arrangements don’t exist for no reason. The “Poison Season” orchestration is hysterical, the dream of a really bold 12-year-old with nothing to lose, some kiddo who knows about whimsy but has never even seen twee. But it’s all shot through with a sickly acid sound, then the piano wanders off, the strings go a little wonky. The saxophone goes on a bit longer than you thought you might like, a french horn in awkward tremolo. It’s the soundtrack to the last few hours of a messy Frank O’Hara party. Halfway through, there’s suddenly the bright chunky palette of “Young Americans” and you’ve never missed an acoustic guitar so much. The piano is icing and the saxophone is toxic. Glam pop is exhausted and is just pop.
Disco and its children was all a really great scene until it proved to be making us dead inside.
How do you listen to music now anyway? Best to loll in bed as a sunny weekend fades. Ceaselessly and gently outré as a production lifestyle is a great way to be an artist.
Just when you think something truly lurid is going to happen on “Poison Season,” it does not. There might be a theme song to a 1976 cop show somewhere in the middle though? But a good one. Irony steadfastly refused to make an appearance. Arch isn’t ironic, it’s just arch! WE DID LEARN SOMETHING FROM THE 80S AFTER ALLLLLL!!! Maybe just once there’s a lone moment of camp, somehow there’s a bit of New Orleans on the back end of a song called “Bangkok.” But it’s not mean and old-thinking when everyone is in on the thesis. Here maybe it’s just: Let’s look at what gross fleshbag things we are and that’s okay.
It’s just the best that Dan Bejar hasn’t become bitter over the years, or, at least, he hasn’t in his work. He’s a fountain of songs, an always-turning bingo cage constantly popping out magic balls with words. A magpie thing for broken phrases of others, a diary quietly unspooled, a lonely album for emotional believers. That’s the way feelings arrive. I wouldn’t know! Like soldiers lockstep marching off a cliff, or the algorithm behind music videos lining themselves up to be endlessly played.