When asked how he'd describe his music to an 80-year-old woman, Dan Deacon calls it "loud music that people dance to, made with computers and electronic instruments." Making the best of a degree in electro-acoustic and computer music composition, the New York-bred, Baltimore-based composer combines influences as varied as Raymond Scott, Brian Eno, Animal Collective and Alvin and the Chipmunks. Currently riding the wave of two critically acclaimed LPs and a live show well on its way to rivaling Girl Talk on the collegiate fun scale, Deacon has become the new face of "hipster garabe"—of-the-moment slang for what the ironic T-shirt-clad underground holds in the highest regard.
After spending the middle part of this decade self-distributing CD-Rs, releasing EPs on small labels and honing his now near-legendary live show in Baltimore warehouses—where he co-founded the Wham City art collective—Deacon managed to attract the attention of indie-rock tastemakers the likes of Pitchfork and Stereogum with his 2007 release Spiderman of the Rings. His first foray into commercial territory, Spiderman was a breakthrough record. With its feverish onslaught of eight-bit beats, heavily processed vocals and layer upon layer (upon layer) of catchy, melodic synth lines, Deacon's introduction to the world at large was a hit at dance-parties, art-house gatherings and in dorm rooms far and wide.
On the follow-up, Bromst, Deacon has expanded and fattened the hyperactive intensity of Spiderman, casting off much of its predecessor's cheap basement aesthetic in favor of meticulous, sprawling electro-art-pop meant to overload the senses. Despite this more measured approach, the energy Deacon wants to convey is still boundless. For that reason, Bromst is just as relentless as Spiderman. It's also equally overwrought. Whether that makes the record suffer or shine depends on the listener.
Throughout the record, Deacon's pitch-shifted voice gets layered on top of itself hundreds of times over, producing a mirage of community. Shimmering flutters of glockenspiel, piano and other instruments, synthetically manipulated to produce notes at a rate well beyond what is humanly possible, make it sound like the community is dancing on broken glass, at tempos determined by what sounds like a fleet of helicopters. In what space is left—almost none—a symphony of analog synthesizers pulsates. The result is a dense, melodic cacophony of lush synth-pop that—while at times vigorously infectious and dramatically emotional—never lets up in its 64-minute run time, save for the Bulgarian choral interlude "Wet Wings." Even on the ethereal instrumental "Slow With Horns / Run for Your Life" Deacon can't help but run amok with clamor by song's end.
Even in small doses, Deacon's approach is hard to take. The truth is, if you can make it straight through Bromst without getting a headache, then you're probably deaf. His music is as beleaguering as it is beautiful, as impervious as it is inventive—making for an overall listening experience that consistently shifts between utter frustration and overwhelming intoxication, and at a pace that constantly blurs the line between both.
Therein lies the Dan Deacon conundrum: His records are both impossible to wrap your head around upon first listen and impossible to hear repeatedly without going insane. But perhaps that's the point. For better or worse, it seems that Deacon's intentions are to exhaust the listener in every way possible.
For as much critical praise as Deacon has earned for Spiderman and Bromst, it's really his live one-man show that causes the biggest fuss. Performing on the dance floor, rather than onstage, Deacon—who looks more like a comic book store clerk than a Pitchfork poster child—plays the role of the oddball ringleader for a sweaty cardiovascular dance-off, during which he engages the audience in a host of interactive routines including group sing-alongs, human spirals, countdowns and animal miming. All the while the crowd surrounds him, barrier free, while he conducts an orchestra of Casiotones, vocoders, mixers, iPods and modulators. While this up-with-people approach to performing is nothing new, instead of sacrificing your safety the way you would at, say, a Lightning Bolt show, all you have to give up is your too-cool-for-school pride.
For his first-ever show in Music City—which he says he's "really looking forward to"—Deacon pulled a Fugazi and insisted on playing an all-ages show. The young-uns of the city's burgeoning basement show scene share his enthusiasm, as do the usual PBR-drinking hipsters who could probably use a night off from passively burning holes in their shoes.
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