Breathtakingly beautiful

Destroyer is the brainchild of Vancouver singer song writer Dan Bejar.
Destroyer is the brainchild of Vancouver singer song writer Dan Bejar. PHOTO: MERGE RECORDS

INDIE ROCK/CHAMBER POP

POISON SEASON

Destroyer

Merge Records

4.5/5 STARS

Thank heavens for Dan Bejar in an age where everything is quick-fix and press-pause-skip.

Just as one is reeling from the hollogrammatic twirl of eye-popping costume changes by Miley Cyrus and the slurry "Oh, I'm running for president in 2020" speech by Kanye West at the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards, it takes a spin of Destroyer's 10th album Poison Season to make one shift focus to what ultimately matters: the music itself.

As frontman of the Vancouverite indie-rock collective, the 42-year- old Bejar does all the things wrong in the name of self-promotion and publicity. He tells interviewers he's doing all he can to make people forget his breakthrough album, 2011's Kaputt, which brought him the biggest accolades of his career. He complained about Taylor Swift, pop music and being out of touch.

Which sets up nicely for zilch expectations for Poison Season.

Kaputt, with its "Europop cruise to nowhere" feel, was an unexpected hit all right, but those looking for a repeat would be disappointed. Poison Season feels utterly unique, unrepentantly so, and demands a sit-through from beginning to end.

It's a globe-trotting song cycle, a panoramic sweep through London, Bangkok, New York and, um, Hell too. He has blithely banished the squiggly electro wizardry found in Kaputt for a whole armoury of mid- to late-20th-century flourishes, from jazz-pop to glam to rock.

The strings-fuelled intro and outro, titled Times Square, Poison Season and No. 2, bookend this suite of romance, heartbreak and self-discovery. Bejar serenades, violins wrapping around him and the piano tip-toeing as a feline.

"You can fall in love with Times Square," he belts, a 1970s-styled Sinatra aspirant, but with that unhappy nasal intact. You arch a brow, but detect no cynicism.

Before you could slouch in an armchair, he shocks your system with Dream Lover, all stomping percussion and blasting horns.

Everything is in your face and you are either with him or not. This is 1980s Springsteen-land and, suddenly, your mind casts back to that unforgettable cameo of a young Courteney Cox dancing onstage with the Boss in his Dancing In The Dark music video from 1986.

Such is his uncanny ability to tap into near-forgotten memories of yore and reboot them for a universe that transcends chronology, space and reason. He is the music equivalent of a stubborn auteur, a maestro of his own romantic, sarcastic, innocent Fantasia.

"I'm coming home," he swoons in Hell, a song that blooms with elegant, Psycho strings jab and a flugelhorn that rises like incense.

He pines for the Girl In A Sling, a gorgeously asinine ballad in the mould of a Serge Gainsbourg or early Van Morrison. You imagine a star- speckled night sky as Bejar empathises over dolorous piano and rubbery horns: "Girl I know what you're going through/I'm going there too."

It takes your breath away, in a way you don't quite fathom. A masterpiece.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 02, 2015, with the headline 'Breathtakingly beautiful'. Print Edition | Subscribe