Aug 24, 2012 Web Exclusive
Fans of Dan Deacon's minimalism-gone-maximum electronic music were possibly puzzled when he stated that his latest opus would be his "protest album." The guy that once titled his songs "Woody Woodpecker" or "Lion With a Shark's Head" isn't generally too keen on remonstration. America's existence is not without precedence, though. Deacon's communal concerts—where he performs on the floor flanked by his devotees—portended his recent appearance as an instigator at a colossal Occupy Wall Street rally earlier this year in New York City's Union Square. In addition, Deacon occasionally railed against drone attacks, political ineptitude, and the multinational agricultural biotechnology corporation Monsanto during interviews.
This type of multi-faceted fury tends to build up inside such an outgoing person. America is the Baltimore composer punching a hole in the dam of his mind. All the experiences since 2007's Spiderman of the Rings and 2009's Bromst pour out in a jubilant and neon-speckled mass, oftentimes tinged by Deacon's near-apocalyptic ruminations.
Opener "Guilford Avenue Bridge" ostensibly serves as a link between Deacon's early career with the Wham City Art Collective. The modulating sine wave experiments of his youth preface the song before a driving (human-made) drumbeat gets the adrenaline pumping. Since Bromst, Deacon has soldered the synthetic and physical together well. Minimalist composers Terry Riley and Philip Glass and player piano artist Conlon Nancarrow continue to be driving influences here, but Deacon has found his own exultant sound.
Just like America's namesake, not everything is optimistic. The vocodered anthem "True Thrush" unfurls lyrics about being lost in a post-modern world that can disaffect more than reassure. Early preview track, "Lots," will send festival audiences into fits with its peace message encased within a noise-electro wrapper: "Now we stand upon a chance/to break the chains and break the lance." Lyrics are intended to be more of a focal point on America than on previous Deacon records. Its remonstrative subject matter and Deacon's comparatively undistorted vocals beg to be parsed, but their message is often curt or scrawled in minimal, bold-faced word balloons.
Such a criticism is less of a slight once paired alongside the full-length's more blockbuster jams. The beat-driven, classic Deacon tune "Crash Jam" musically recalls the Dan Deacon Ensemble's joyful commune in a New Mexico state park. It's one of America's most carefree songs and a welcome palate cleanser before the album's finale, the 21-minute suite "USA." The four-part cut features 22 virtuosic players, many recruited from Baltimore's esteemed Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University. Deacon stretches the borders of his songcraft to the limit and it's a joy to hear a showman pushing every part of an orchestra like an overheating laptop. "USA" alone makes America one of 2012's striking moments and a new high-water mark for Dan Deacon's ever-ascending career. (www.dandeacon.com)
Author rating: 8.5/10
Average reader rating: 6/10