Dan Deacon appears as a man of extremes. With Spiderman of the Rings, he exploded through the speakers of every indiephile who had any interest in having a good fucking time — gorgeous, riotous, unwieldy at turns. Deacon’s ultimate goal was (and still is) to make music with no prerequisites. Music that anybody could hear and immediately enjoy. Spiderman accomplished this inclusiveness — a little too well. While touring the record, i.e. turning basements and small halls into euphoric micro-communities, he has said in interviews that he became disheartened by kids coming to his shows on ecstasy, by enabling them. This recognition added an extra layer of self-awareness to the creative process.
In a recent interview with NPR, Deacon’s adoration of minimalist pioneers like Raymond Scott and Terry Riley was clear; minimalists just take the melodies off of “sick riffs” to expose the beauty of the underlying instrumentation, he explained. With Bromst, this concept seemed to gain precedence; the compositions were more patient and exploratory. He threw an introverted party, better for earbuds than basement speakers. His songwriting lost none of its edge despite losing an ounce of immediacy — Bromst feels more honest.
Eccentric on the outside, Deacon is, on the inside, a student of minimalist and classical music, hip-hop and pop — and the intersection of them all. With America, his music reflects this dichotomy with even more grandeur. The first half is the “pop” side, comprising five songs that each approach that broad term in drastically different ways. “True Thrush,” the first single, has a pop structure and will sound confusing to those still yearning to blast “Wham City” every other weekend. The instrumentation on “Prettyboy” is classical — regal, beautifully textured and controlled. The next song, the last of side A, is titled “Crash Jam.” The first 30 seconds will make you think it was created solely to destroy subwoofers, yet soon after relief arrives you experience what Deacon may have mixed if he were hired to DJ the battle at Helm’s Deep.
Deacon, even beneath such dynamic aesthetics, has a singular sound. On America, this is what he shows off. He’s come to know himself as an artist well enough to stay grounded in his own sound while experimenting with so many different styles. A talented songwriter who found fame by writing noisy electronic party music that sounded easy, he’s now composing outwardly beautiful music worthy of the likes of electronic gurus like Brian Eno and Steve Reich.
The ambitious second side, a four-track suite dedicated to the namesake of the album and its landscape, opens with the melodic theme of the side, a concert symphony devoid of anything Deaconesque until almost two minutes in, when the melody runs its course, dwindling almost to silence before a glitching beat slaps you awake and gives the rest of the track legs. Again Deacon’s dichotomy appears, only now it’s working for him, manipulating listeners for optimal impact. The rest of the side shows similar dynamic balance, painted in broad strokes, with the third movement, “Rail,” serving as the centerpiece, which provides moments where you could swear you are listening to one of those transition tracks off of Sufjan Stevens’ Illinois, yet there’s a controlled chaos behind the bouncing bassoons and trombones. Pop, minimalist, classical. Cerebral and effectual. This record is the pleasant result of an anti-esoteric weirdo with a wealth of time and talent on his hands.
Brian Eno – Another Green World
Sufjan Stevens – Enjoy Your Rabbit
James Blake – CMYK
Stream: Dan Deacon – “True Thrush”