Unearthed: Dan Deacon- America
Posted in Unearthed
AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL
I’m endlessly fascinated by how geography affects music, mostly because I live in a world where it doesn’t seem to matter anymore. The internet has liberated artists of all sorts, allowing them to proliferate their art throughout the entire world with less effort than it took to plaster their neighborhood with posters in the dark ages. Until quite recently, music scenes and genres were oftentimes synonymous. In decades past, a group of bands from a city or region could forge a sound unique to themselves. Of course, all that has changed since the dawn of the internet era. Artists are no longer bound to a scene by city or region, but can instead collaborate from across the globe, swapping tracks and beats through the wonders of the cloud. Geography no longer constrains artists or fosters scenes. But it does still act as an influence on art. At times, the influence is associative; you can hear the desolation of a rural area in Boards of Canada’s music. Other times, it’s dissociative; you don’t really get a feel for Oxford through Kid A, but rather sense someone trying to escape the horrors of the digital age through music.
Disassociation seems to be a prominent motivation for artist from the Baltimore area. Unless I’m completely mistaken, Baltimore isn’t some dreamy wonderland paved with good vibes and LSD tablets. But if you were to base your opinion solely off the music of Beach House, Animal Collective and Dan Deacon, you might think that Baltimore really was Charm City. Of course this isn’t the case; earlier this summer, The Baltimore Sun happily reported that “For the first time in years, Baltimore is no longer among the nation's five deadliest cities.” Today, Baltimore claims the much coveted number six spot. Yet somehow, those gritty streets have created a scene in an age where it shouldn’t matter.
Dan Deacon is a curious fellow. Equal parts pop visionary, sonic adventurer and classical mind, Deacon manages to synthesize a menagerie of exotic sounds into expertly crafted songs. Though much of his early work was largely experimental (and generally a far cry from pop music), his latest releases show a wild imagination tempered by his skill as a songwriter and composer. This is pop music at its finest, both laden with hooks and artistic precedent. From the first listen, “True Thrush” felt like a track I’d heard a thousand times before, which isn’t to disparage the song or songwriter in the slightest. It’s not the played out feeling that overtakes me when I here “Call Me Maybe” blared over a supermarket loudspeaker. It’s the sort of familiar joy I feel when listening to “A Day in the Life” for the thousandth time.
Actually, I get a Beatlesy vibe from this whole album, even though it sounds nothing like anything they ever put out, or even what they might put out if they were to put out a record next week. The spirit of bold innovation in pop music that The Beatles started lives through this record. Each song pours out of your headphones with a sense of childlike wonder, seemingly performed for the first time with each and every listen. That’s a quality you can’t fake. After all, music is a performance art, a dynamic medium that lives on with you. Given the fact that Deacon’s live shows are some the most vibrant and immersive concert experiences out there today, it makes perfect sense that he’s able to capture that zeitgeist and put it to tape.
America is an excellent album. Definitively his most mature and refined album, it’s hard to say if this will one day be regarded as his watershed moment or fall from grace. If you like anything he’s done up to this point, you’ll really dig this record. But America is neither as boldly imaginative as Spiderman of the Rings nor as sublime as Bromst. If you had always hoped for an amalgamation of the two, you will be quite pleased by what you find here. But as a casual fan, I feel that something was compromised along the way, that something was lost. The subtle sounds of classical are often set against more belligerent electro vibes, often to great effect. The boisterous synths that convey Deacon’s vision certainly have their own charm, giving the entire production a playful, childlike flair that’s become his signature. I’m sure they’ll also allow these tracks to absolutely explode live. But at times they feel overbearing, even strained.
My first impression of the album left me longing for the more subdued sonic palette of Bromst. But with each subsequent listen, I began to understand how brilliant and necessary the arrangements on this record are. The contrast between strings and synths in the four-part “USA” suite at the end of the album would be impossible with subtler instrumentation. The very premise of the art seems to be a study in contrast, sonically describing the nation’s state of affairs. I’d caution to call this a political statement though; with tracks titled “The Great American Dessert” and “Manifest”, Deacon seems to be making a commentary on the very spirit of America. The picture of America Dan Deacon paints with this album seems a far cry from the nation’s current state. But that, I suppose, is the point. Just as his earlier work (both on his own and with Wham City) showed the influence of Baltimore through dissociation, America shows the influence of the United States through transcendence. Given the majestic chord the album ends on, one can’t help but think that the man behind this is at least somewhat hopeful for the future. We need more of that; we need more of Dan Deacon.
Purchase Dan Deacon's LP America on iTunes.