Dan Deacon, America

Mike Powell

By Mike Powell

on 08.28.12 in Reviews

Don’t let the big, mature title distract you: America is still a Dan Deacon album, and Dan Deacon’s music is, more or less, the same sublimely hyperactive stuff it’s always been. The main difference between this album and his previous ones is that some of the synthesizers have been replaced by oboes, which tend to sound slightly less like laser beams. Over the past five years, he’s shifted from a near-communal living situation in Baltimore to working with venerated director Francis Ford Coppola: The expansion of instrumentation on America probably has as much to do with access as anything else.

As joyful and complex as anything he’s ever done

Deacon, who has a formal music-conservatory education, has always skewed toward sweeping, orchestral music. Formally, a lot of 2007′s Spiderman of the Rings was clockwork minimalist composition in the vein of Steve Reich and Terry Riley, but the music was executed the exuberance of Little Richard or the Ramones — a visionary scrambling of high and low, smart and dumb. Watching him dart back and forth between a table scattered with loopers, effects and other noisemakers during Spiderman‘s tour was like watching a Merrie Melodies cartoon where our schizoid hero tries to not only play every instrument in the orchestra at the same time, but conduct it too.

Bromst was more controlled, and so is America, playing down some of the spastic aspects of his music and playing up some of the more hypnotic ones. The album’s centerpiece is a four-part, 20-minute suite called “USA.” Is it a coincidence that symphonies traditionally have four movements? Probably not. Deacon’s showing off his ambition here. The broken-down synths that once made him a DIY hero for the neon era now make him an “electroacoustic” composer. The album makes a grand effort to split the difference between two worlds, and the result is just as joyful and complex as anything Deacon has done to date.