Listening to a Dan Deacon record is like being set loose in a vault of every single toy you never got for Christmas. No other artist working today deserves this description. Dan Deacon is string lights glowing inside big rock candy mountains. Dan Deacon is childhood bliss unburdened.
We call him electronic because his dense sound collages are assembled mostly with machines, but the man has pulled strings from everywhere--punk rock, raw psychedelia, mid-nineties drum n' bass--to throttle our ears with liquid sugar. Under anyone else's direction his drillbit whines, screeching vocoders and sing-song hooks would flail around as sidelined annoyances beside the sterile spheres of "real" EDM. But by sourcing our nostalgia and our buried puerile joy, Dan Deacon takes annoyance and makes it art.
Deacon wrote his last full-length--2009's brilliant Bromst--from a place of unmasked retrospection. Its earnest loops drew to mind the worn roads we all travel when we spiral home. While manic and joyous as anything the producer's ever coughed up, Bromst was all nostalgia. Deacon's newest, America, starts to look forward--and maybe, just maybe, it starts to grow up a little, too.
In contrast with Bromst's upended millipede beats, America stomps forward with real feet in heavier boots. The percussion loops stand as more solid and groove-oriented than any of the frantic flecks and slithers that vibrate like so much amphetamine across Deacon's previous work. And while Bromst and Spiderman of the Rings often tried to fit as many sonic eruptions into one space as possible, America slows down and lets itself focus on one texture, one melody at a time.
That's not to say the record doesn't have that smirking edge that makes Deacon Deacon. The aggressive timbres on "Lots" and tanklike instrumental opener "Guilford Avenue Bridge" bare plenty teeth, but they mostly serve to contrast with the glittering mountain ranges of "Prettyboy" or the rolling didgeridoo drones on "Crash Jam." The record's A side sounds well enough like Dan Deacon on a couple fewer drugs. But by the time we get to side B, we seem to start straying further and further outside Wham City limits.
And that's a great thing. America's "USA" series (four parts from "Is A Monster" to "Manifest") lets Deacon slip into his composer shoes and burst past the caramel-encrusted pop mold he'd set for himself with viral tunes like "The Crystal Cat." "USA" is huge--unrelentingly, unapologetically huge, as huge and sweeping as its namesake nation. Far from devoid of Deacon's trademark whirrs and squeals, the sequence gleefully blurs the line between classical and electronica in a way it's not quite been blurred before. Strings and horns fill the air against icy digital precipitation. The scope is new, the character still Deacon. Candy shards fly in all directions over the orchestral swells, but suddenly they seem much more than simply sweet.
America could be the sound of Dan Deacon growing up, of a producer assuming the distinguished new title of composer. But it's easier to imagine that Deacon's had America's moments of profound introspection and negative space brewing inside all along. Come for the shrill dopamine triggers like you knew you would, but stick around for the miles and miles of quiet rolling country rendered in this multitalented artist's flooring instrumental sweeps.