Dan Deacon


Dan Deacon’s palette has widened. His trademark battery of ostinato drums and ecstatic nitrogenated dwarf-voices is here accompanied by swooping orchestral motifs, horns, and shotgun blasts of sheer sawing noise. The listener must be prepared to scale several face-high walls of sound. These are thick, complex bombardments of glee and energy, peppered with Deacon’s usual idiosyncrasies.

Deacon sits identifiably in the tradition of minimalism, despite his music’s considerable amplitude: how layers appear, play with one another, and disappear, is almost as important as how each sounds solo. His classical credentials are considerable, but the artistic ambition is swamped by an overwhelming desire to have fun. Polyrhythms are central. Triplets clash with duplets, desynchronise, and synchronise again. Fans of pizzicato strings, ticking clocks, Steve Reich, and happy hardcore will be pleased, sometimes simultaneously. It can be a challenging listen: a pre-emptive Nurofen or two would be advisable. The album’s opening is a sharp painful pulse, a loud guttural roar demanding that we pay the artist the respect he wants to deserve.

Has Dan Deacon grown up? Bromst and Spiderman of the Rings offered music for geniuses to get stupid to. The Deacon of 2009 wanted to construct communities of frantic, frolicking aesthetes. Achievable, when you play enough festivals. To portray America, by contrast, is no mean feat. I don’t think Deacon’s style is sufficiently expressive to meet that challenge: very rapid electronic music suffers limitations that literature, say, doesn’t. But the attempt brings out the best in him. The USA suite is a merry sonic romp, which throws woodwind and brass rewardingly into the percussive melee. At its blistering pace, it’s easy to imagine a frenetic train ride through dustbowl flats pockmarked by tattered gas stations and convenience stores. Indeed, we’re told that touring by train served as partial inspiration for the album. Or perhaps it conjures Dan Deacon, huddled over a rack of synthesizers, fantasizing about white picket fences. The textures are sublime, even if conspiracy theorists may notice a marked similarity between ‘USA I: Is a Monster’ and the finale to Mozart’s Magic Flute.

Elsewhere Deacon touts his developed songwriting skills: ‘True Thrush’ has gorgeous, joyful harmonies even as its elements are overlaid with thick furs of fuzz, while ‘Prettyboy’ is the finale music for a thoughtful Japanese video game. Evidence of Deacon’s burgeoning emotional intelligence at the fore and aft of the album flanks angry ‘Lots’ and ‘Crash Jam’, whose bawling rampages kowtow the listener into submission with overdriven vocals stapled to drums that imitate irate lorry pistons.

The album’s opening trio of tracks beat any of Deacon’s previous tracks in pairwise comparisons. A dash of extra variety, and an increasing ability to transform clever layers of sound into well-structured songs, make this his best contribution to date. But the USA suite steals the show. Let’s hope the Deacon of the future suffers from further delusions of grandeur.

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today