If Spiderman of the Rings were actually the title of a film, one could assume that it would be one hell of a blockbuster, Frodo and Spider-Man ensnared in some kind of supervillainous subterranean war between Middle Earth and Manhattan…or something along those lines. And yet, in spite of how action packed it may turn out to be, or just how epic a storyline it might have, the whole thing would most likely turn out to be a bit batshit crazy. Clearly, not even the wildest of summer blockbusters could combine these two franchises into one coherent whole without some element of confusion, not to mention downright silliness.
So it only makes sense that Spiderman of the Rings, the new album by Baltimore’s Dan Deacon, is an utterly confounding yet entirely wonderful blockbuster of its own. With a graduate degree in electro-acoustic and computer music composition under his belt, Deacon is a most learned performer and composer, but he’s also a weird dude. His duct-tape bound Coke bottle thick glasses and cartoon shirts of all kinds display that side well, as does Spiderman, an expansive adventure into analog synths, bizarre vocal effects and, uh, Woody Woodpecker, whose mocking laughter provides the primary sample for first track “Woody Woodpecker.” What initially seems absurd and annoying soon becomes a coherent and joyous cacophony, and Deacon begins to sound less crazy than he might seem. Do some searching on Wikipedia and you’ll find an entry that suggests the song is dedicated to Vince Neil, David Spade and Wesley Snipes, who all, according to the article, have Woody Woodpecker tattoos. This could be completely made up, and probably is, but John Mellancamp legitimately has the impish bird on his bicep, and I don’t see his name mentioned anywhere.
Deeper into the record, Deacon begins to open his sound up to something more closely resembling pop music. “Crystal Cat” is a fast-paced electro dance track, similar to M83 or The Postal Service at times, while “Wham City,” named for the Baltimore arts collective to which Deacon belongs, is a 12-minute opus, combining a Danielson-like campfire impishness with tons more electronic pulsing. Deacon transitions to more of a delicate folktronica sound with “Big Milk,” which is soon offset by the brief, explosive “Okie Dokie,” on which it sounds like Deacon is chanting “I have an Aerosmith gun.”
Though it initially sounds nearly as absurd as “Woody Woodpecker,” the video game squeaks and squeals of “Snake Mistakes,” complete with high-pitched voice alteration, ultimately reveals itself to be one of the album’s crowning moments. The song is held together by a funky, rubbery bassline, while electronics do handsprings and backflips in a crisscross, acrobatic fashion. And aside from having an awesome name, “Pink Batman” is a twinkling 8-bit symphony, soaring and majestic in all its analog glory.
So maybe Spiderman of the Rings doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, either as a Hollywood creation or as an album. That doesn’t mean Deacon hasn’t created something truly unique here. Sure beats the hell out of anything with Jerry Bruckheimer’s name on it.
Video: “Crystal Cat”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.