Dan Deacon - America
Dan Deacon never really much liked being called 'wacky'. I mean, yeah, he called an album Spiderman of The Rings, 'Woof Woof' is a beat constructed on the basis of a dog's bark, he does standup comedy, and then this exists, but there's always been something lurking beneath Deacon's helicopter hat exterior. His communal brand of live performance has drawn him fans and friends across the whole country and not to mention a slot doing a special set at this year's May Day rally in New York City. 2009's Bromst too embodied that communal spirit, using tracks like 'Build Voice' and 'Of The Mountains' to forward his singular brand of manic electro-pop. These weren't wacky moments, but those that showcased an artist subtly bridging gap between producer and composer and showing up much of the burgeoning indie inflected electronic community at the time. Deacon was, with Bromst, already doing something more complex, textured, and meaningful than the hordes of midi-controller toting Chillwave producers that flocked to the forefront of electronic music consciousness around the same time that Deacon's triumph was released. Call him 'wacky', but Deacon has always provided meaning and vision in a musical context so often stripped of those vital characteristics. Given the origins of this new record America, he's only distanced himself further from those pejoritive labels and firmly into the realm of 'serious artist'.
Three years later, the comedy tours are in the bag, Deacon's toured ambient tunes under the name Pardalince Bird, performed at Carnegie Hall, layered 'Call Me Maybe' 147 times (to shockingly brilliant results), and toured the world several times over. It's with this new perspective, brought about from his wide ranging experience, that America was born. Though still constructed on the same sounds that Deacon has made his wheelhouse over the years (the grating synth tones, the pummeling drums), Deacon has both expanded musically and lyrically focused his stinging poetry into lines both infinitely relatable and entirely despicable.
America finds Deacon exploring what being American means, the universal concern that despite the land gobbling beast that the country is so widely perceived to be (and well, is), one maintains a perverse connection to our homeland. It's this troubling connection that is found in the dichotomous relationship between the music and lyrics on this record.
Deacon mines the epic scope of the vastness of the country here. These are the sounds of rolling plains, of driving 100 miles an hour through Iowa, through South Dakota, to a show, to another show, to another, taking in the sunshine, taking in the stormclouds, taking in the cornfields, taking in the deserts. These are trumpets, these are massive builds, these are the triumphant choruses rising from each and every home in our massive country. This is the American dream. This is Rockwell. These are rolling plains unfolding before your very eyes. This is an engorged, meaty, throbbing Star Spangled Banner sidling up just a little too close for comfort. America, fuck yeah.
But Deacon's experience of his country isn't so entirely one sided and celebratory. No Deacon, like much of the rational world, can just as easily see the resource gobbling monster that his country has long remained. Whether in the chant of "We don't own the world" that underpins lead single 'True Thrush', or the dystopian couplets on 'Lots', Deacon has a vengeful distaste for the behemoth that is the United States government and society. Deacon speaks of a "hillside burning in flames" and "nothing remain[ing] of the place [he] loved." It's all dark and damning, quite the interesting counterpoint to the bountiful jubilance of the musical accompaniment.
It's so rare that an artist can coherently and completely address themes so inherently personal and immensely relatable as those Deacon has tackled on America. It's a record that functions both as a paean to the glory of the great nation that the United States so often asserts itself to be, and an inexorable indictment of the great flaws that the great monolith of a country so often sports. Constituents relations to their country often retain a trying amount of inner turmoil, and no other album, and really no other piece of art, in my memory so clearly represents that internal dissonance as America does.
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