NOTE:  ‘America’ by Dan Deacon is currently streaming in its entirety via The Gaurdian.

Dan Deacon is weird.  Listen to any of the songs in his discography (especially his “Call Me Maybe” remix), and that’s almost immediately apparent.  But the Baltimore artist’s earlier work was cloaked in the type of synth-y happiness found in the similarly strange music of his contemporaries, such as the various members of Animal Collective and, in a less-weird-but-still-true way, groups like Passion Pit.  Songs on albums like Spiderman of the Rings were weird, yet weirdly approachable, given their melodic qualities.

America, Deacon’s newest album via Domino Records, on the other hand, begins with a relentless heaviness.  Pounding drums and a grating sound of distorted noise persist for the first couple of minutes.  There’s none of that sunshine-y glee (or gleeful sunshine) on “Guilford Avenue Bridge,” the album’s opening track.

And when those signature mouse-like voices do make their first appearance on the album via track two, entitled “True Thrush,” it has a certain artistic value that didn’t quite seem present in earlier songs.  On tracks like Deacon’s first major single from Spiderman Of The Rings, “The Crystal Cat,” it almost seemed like another ironic element typical of the Baltimore hipster scene of the time.  It was cool because it was different, but it also didn’t seem like a fully formed artistic choice.

Could the use of those voices on songs like “True Thrush” be considered a maturity?  Maybe.  But I wouldn’t quite go that far.  Overall, America is a darker album than Deacon’s previous work, and its possible that the artist no longer feels the idealistic optimism that he usually brings to his energetic, crowd-interactive live shows.  During those shows (of which I’ve attended only one), Deacon usually creates a hippie-ish sense of interconnectedness by making audience members touch each other and perform tasks in unison.  But, perhaps more than for any other reason, Deacon has fun with the audience and attempts to make their experience memorable and enjoyable.

Thankfully, despite its heaviness, America is still fun.  How guys like Deacon manage to organize chaotic noise in such an artfully strange manner and still get people to instinctively dance to it is incredible.  As The Guardian states in their introduction to the album, Deacon is “influenced by classical music as well as pop and electronica.”  The complexity of classical, the instrumentation of electronica, and the approachability and likeableness of pop music all combine to form Dan Deacon’s unique sound.

On America, “Prettyboy” is the song that most beautifully brings those three distinct elements together.  It’s an entirely instrumental track that combines the composition of pianos, strings and synths to an emotional, cinematic effect.

America ends with four tracks that are all titled “USA” followed by a roman numeral and a corresponding phrase.  The first is titled “USA I Is A Monster,” like an antiquated Facebook status.  The second is titled “USA II The Great American Desert.”  The contrasting qualities of American greatness and American imperfection seem to be a common theme on the album.  The USA is filled with magnificent nature such as the scenery depicted on America’s cover, but in many ways it can also, to use Deacon’s words, be “a monster.” I used the word “seem” two sentences ago because, as with much of Deacon’s work, the lyrics are hard to decipher.  But judging by the song titles, the album title and the album cover(as well as The Guardian’s descriptions of the album’s themes as being “anger at US foreign policy and fears of apocalypse”), it’s an informed guess.

And even without recognizing those themes, America is a good album.  The music world’s been needing a Dan Deacon album for a while now, and it only makes sense that the artist would deliver one that sounds like this.  Like an almost fully realized version of his unique sound.  The Dan Deacon of a few years ago was a shock to the musical system, and one that was much needed, but this one is much more enjoyable to listen to.  And America, overall, is a much more cohesively enjoyable album.


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