By Russell Warfield
There’s a hell of a leap for Dan Deacon between a title as silly as Spiderman Of The Rings and one as ambitious as America, especially with only one album bridging the gap in between. Filled with hyper-colour and scatter-noise, Deacon’s debut was an relentless shot of restless electronics, filled with lyrics about ghost and cats and pigs and bats and how cool his dad is because he’d give you a lift wherever you needed. Follow up Bromst hinted at a more please-take-me-seriously streak to Deacon, adding a touch of darkness to the sound, and more outwardly displaying signs of his classical training which might have been missed on his debut. And now we arrive at America – an album which, in many ways, does indeed heighten its ambition to meet the broader scope of its title, offering up Deacon’s most complex compositions to date, but while also – for better or worse – retaining everything we’ve come to expect from his idiosyncratic sound.
Most notable, on the subject of heightened ambition, is the fact that the final four tracks of the album’s nine are a linking suite effectively making up one composition by the name of ‘USA’: a largely instrumental piece spanning about twenty minutes. It opens with suitable pomp and epic grandeur – a string section playing long, arching notes, sounding like the score to visuals which aren’t there; a cinematic aerial sweep of the homeland landscape of Deacon’s inspiration. It’s a bold gambit, and one which works handsomely by preserving all of the things which Deacon excels at – sudden shifts in texture, skittering bedlam-rhythms, the occasional chant-along vocal line – but expanding them onto a wider compositional canvas; swelling and contracting over its lengthy running time, with recurring motifs and passages giving the piece a sense of gravitas never previously attempted by Deacon.
But the fact that this heightening of ambition doesn’t go hand in hand with a switch up of delivery is a mixed blessing. At heart, America still finds Dan Deacon working within the same aural parameters as ever – an approach which sees him hitting the same heights as his previous LPs, but the same limitations as well. Excellent opening track ‘Guilford Avenue Bridge’ is a great exemplifier of everything to be cherished about Deacon, cramming a ridiculous amount of ideas into each bar, rushing from one section to the even-crazier next with his enviable combination of nihilism and craftsmanship.
But elsewhere, the familiarity to the sound becomes weary – the heard-it-before, rat-a-tat vocal line of ‘Crash Jam’, for example, or his insistence on putting a berserk, polyphonic arpeggio underneath absolutely everything; even uncharacteristically mid-tempo experiments like ‘Prettyboy’ which might be better served by fresh approaches. And so despite its frequently brilliant flashes of new complexity and deeper maturity, America is ultimately just the next link in the chain of Deacon’s LPs, rather than the great leap forward promised by its premise. For all his continued charm and this album’s plentiful merits, I’m ultimately left hoping that Deacon’s next album is going to be just as much of a progression in content as well as form.