The United States of Acid
The tripped-out vision of Dan Deacon’s America
When Dan Deacon chose to name his latest album “America”, he knew what he was getting into. You can tell by the message that’s left waiting for anyone who visits his website these days:
“America is a word with an infinite range of connotations, both positive and negative. Even its literal definition is open to discussion. In using it as the title of the album, in a small way, I‘m contributing to the discussion.” [Excerpt]
With this, his third major studio release, contribute Deacon does—and to more than just the definition of that word. Taken in the context of the indie or DIY music scene as a whole America is an interjection just as loud as Animal Collective’s Merryweather Post Pavilion, and does just as nice a job of taking the screechy and obscure and polishing it to shine like a hipster diamond. Compared to the whole Deacon discography, America is smoother and rounder than Bromst and less anxious than Meetle Mice or Silly Hat vs. Egale Hat. It finishes completely free of the grunt-and-squeal vocal compositions that insert themselves into some earlier albums, and hardcore Deacon fans may feel troubled at the album’s new level of accessibility. But these champions of the obscure can rest easy, as I assure you there is still ample of cacophony, and plenty of polyrhythms and webs of frazzled sound to scare off the way uninitiated. As a yardstick, LA Times reviewer Randall Roberts claimed that America brought no idea to the table that couldn’t be better expressed by (hopelessly obscure) Japanese noise-rock band, Boredoms. And being compared to a genre of tonal meanderings unified under the heading of “noise” never bodes well for the welcoming embrace of the public.
The irony, of course, is that Randall Roberts is hopelessly wrong. Rather than wandering into noise and rejecting structure, Deacon never fails to follow it on America. Every piece possesses relentless frenetic reasoning, built from the first to last with compositional sensibility sadly absent from popular music today. This truth about his reasoned brilliance is what, strangely, threatens to deny Deacon his due: that as much as he may deserve the title of avant garde “rock” icon, Dan Deacon also deserves the epithet of “long-hair” classical music egghead. Decked-out, bald, bearded and bespectacled like a 21’st century Occupy Wall Street protester, it’s easy to forget that Deacon studied at the Conservatory of Music at the State University of New York. Instead, you might mistake him for something like… a monk excommunicated for tripping acid. But study he did. And while effusing the spirit of the DIY and positioning himself as a quasi-obscure anti-establishment figure to the public, he’s already made a respected name for himself in more enlightened circles. In 2011, his composition “Ghostbuster Cook: Origin of the Riddler”, (which was largely based on the use of amplified, bottled soda) was listed by New York Magazine as one of the top 10 classical performances of the year.
It’s the unique combination of this technical ability and a popular sensibility that is why America should finally spread Deacon’s success into the public consciousness, though whether it will remains to be seen. The album is lush but digestible, and arcane but contained. You’ve never heard sounds destroyed in such a constructive way; warped to be so much more right. And nowhere is Deacon’s mastery of straddling the third rail of innovation more perfect than in the closing section of the album. Also titled “America”, the four-part, 20-odd minute piece is complex and reflective, bringing together a symphonic web of strings and synths where the traditional line between electronic and live elements is erased. Sounds both recognizable and unfamiliar blend in a way that’s strangely comforting as we are carried through every state of Deacon’s mind on what this country means, from the first track “Is a Monster”, to the closer, “Manifest”.
For every step he takes on this album, whether closer to shore or deeper into the sea, the persistent feeling is that Dan Deacon is walking in the right direction. America stands as a challenging record for anyone not in love with the obtuse, but poised with rewards for anyone who puts in the time to give it a few listens. In a year with a few disappointing releases already, America is a much-needed shot in the arm that should be required listening for anyone considering themselves a music aficionado.