Dan Deacon


(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

Spiderman of the Rings (2007), 6.5/10
Bromst (2009), 7.5/10
America (2012), 7/10
Gliss Riffer (2015), 4.5/10
Mystic Familiar (2020), 6/10
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(Clicka qua per la versione Italiana)

Baltimore-based composer Dan Deacon surfaced with the intricate collages of Spiderman of the Rings (Carpark, 2007), that mixed orchestral arrangements, electronic beats and childish madness. The instrumentals are particularly promiscuous. Wooody Wooodpecker a is a musix-box of xylophone, looped cartoon voices and synthesizer that suddenly soars like a Bach fugue. The Bach influence continues on Pink Batman, virtually a spiraling sonata for pipe organ played at double speed. Jimmy Joe Roche is a glorious melody warped and stretched to the limit by a gang of synthesizers.
The songs perform strange surgical operations on the body of popular music. The Crystal Cat takes a synthetic techno beat and turns it into a twist-like beat of the 1960s; and its fast-forwarded rigmarole sounds like a parody of old bubblegum hits. By the same token, the wild fenzied party dance Okie Dokie could be an alien cover of Twist And Shout. The border between alien and cartoonish is further explored in the demented disco novelty Trippy Green Skull, a sort of Giorgio Moroder for nursery schools. The 12-minute Wham City stood as the manifesto of this art that mixed his avantgarde background (for example, minimalist repetition) and his subcultural passions (for example, the cartoonish singalong), somewhere between the Animal Collective and Girl Talk.

Bromst (Carpark, 2009) was less hilarious and more contemplative, as if Deacon had suddenly realized that his novelty was worth a lot more than just a juvenile joke. Build Voice arrives from very far: a buzz of looped voices slowly builds up and is surrounded by all sorts of new sounds, including Brian Eno-esque vocals singing a childish lullaby. The piece soon become an exercise in chaotic collective minimalist repetition at a feverish tempo. After a quick ragtime-like piano solo, the coda is a frenzied horn fanfare worthy of Michael Nyman.
A piercing, drilling drone launches Red F, another Eno-esque singalong that explores even more rhythmic post-techno soundscapes, grounded in Neu's "motorik" and a videogame's soundtracks.
The mostly instrumental Paddling Ghost returns to the jovial atmosphere of the first album, which in turn harked back to the disco novelties of the late 1970s (this one with a hyper-ska beat and cartoonish voices).
For about three minutes Snookered is a relatively calm song with sooting arrangements, but then the drum-beat doubles in speed and everything starts spinning out of control, particularly the crazy, fractured and distored voice (almost a rockabilly-style hiccup) and the gnome-like voices that spring up around it.
Marimba and glockenspiel tinge the seven-minute Of The Mountains of an exotic flavor, and the rhythm (not only the electronic beat but also the voices that contribute to it) keeps mutating around a mechanical pow-wow beat.
The eight-minute Surprise Stefani uses again the voice as the main rhythmic element, which is then passed on to the drums and finally to the marimba.
The brief Wet Wings is the most psychedelic experiment: just floating layered voices.
Woof Woof displays one of the most captivating rhythms, a Disney-like ballet for a multitude of micro-voices that turns into a psychedelic merry-go-round, like a truly demented version of the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour.
Baltihorse is its demonic counterpart, beginning and ending in extreme frenzied mode with an instrumental intermezzo of eerie dance steps for (synth-produced) harpsichord and marimba. And the closing Get Older is the ultimate scream: all instruments turned to maximum volume and pulsating manically.
The vocal experiments resurrect a glorious tradition that had almost died with Frank Zappa, and that harks back to the Fugs' Virgin Forest. Cartoonish voices intone incoherently majestic melodies that are reprised in counterpoint by the regular male register (sometimes itself overdubbed).
The common denominator of all the pieces (and what is unique about Deacon) is the visceral impact and the dense textures. In a sense Deacon is the first composer who truly continues and fulfils the experiment begun 20 years earlier by Vampire Rodents.

Deacon also composed and conducted the premiere of Ghostbuster Cook for the percussion quartet So Percussion at the 2011 Ecstatic Music Festival, and scored next Francis Ford Coppola's film Twixt (2011).

America (Domino, 2012) incorporates live instruments. True Thrush introduces the Deacon the digital singer-songwriter, who is placing his creative beat-making at the service of a real song, a surreal jovial propulsive lullaby a` la Kevin Ayers. The vintage psychedelic pop and locomotive whythm of Crash Jam bridges Pink Floyd's first singles and airy synth-pop of the 1980s.
The instrumentals are less successful. The wild dissonant guitar-like glissandoes and manic drumming of the bombastic and crunchy Guilford Avenue Bridge either last too little or too long. The choral arrangement of Lots is lost in the symphonic and percussive mayhem. The tender new-age instrumental Prettyboy is at least well orchestrated (synthesizer, piano, strings, bassoon).
The four-movement USA for large ensemble is not exactly Mason Bates but it highlights Deacon's growing ambition. Is a Monster open with Michael Nyman-esque strings, leading to an orgy of thundering tom-toms and digital beeps via a sort of orgasmic Rhys Chatham-esque crescendo (although with no guitar) clipped by a solemn horn fanfare. If that movement is geometrically ordered, The Great American Desert is its chaotic counterpart, with booming drums and hysterical electronics birthing an angelic choir (unfortunately Deacon spoils this spectacular effect by intoning a lame elegy and then continuing the jam without any real idea of where to go with it). Rail is seven minutes of intricate minimalist repetition a` la Terry Riley's In C (unfortunately ruined by a grotesquely kitsch finale). So far there is little that is revolutionary or entertaining, but the brief finale, Manifest redeems the whole with a glorious anthemic choral melody fueled by a tribal android groove. Luckily this suite, that should mark Deacon's adulthood, is consistently sabotaged by his childish mindset, otherwise it would sink in its own ponderous amateurishness.
His aggressive electronic timbres call for the live instruments to play at their most barbaric and tribal extreme.
By trying to enter the austere classical world, Deacon ends up proving exactly the opposite, that what he is really good at is... childish romps.

The highlight of Gliss Riffer (2015) is the catchy and polyrhythmic When I Was Done Dying. Second best is the vastly inferior Fell The Lightning. The rest is filler.

Mystic Familiar (2020) was a more serious endeavour, and almost a high-tech demonstration. Dan Deacon sounds like an Alan Parsons of the 21st century, devoted to intricate and layered keyboard-based productions for simple, hummable melodies. The elaborate opener, Become a Mountain, only employs pianos but multi-layered to achieve a symphonic effect, and it feels like glitch-synth-pop when in fact it's just a piano ballad. The propulsive and melodic zenith Sat by a Tree is an unlikely cross between Brian Eno's Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy and the Supremes circa 1967. The stately elegy Fell Into the Ocean could be a synth-pop version of early Flaming Lips. If the percussive orgies of Arp I-IV feel like mere technical demonstrations, and the supersonic boogie My Friend is rather childish, the album returns Deacon to the style in which he has few rivals.

But Deacon was becoming a specialist in film soundtracks, a major distraction: Rat Film (2017), Time Trial (2018), Well Groomed (2020), All Light Everywhere (2021), Ascension (2021), Strawberry Mansion (2022), Hustle (2022), etc.

(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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