Album Review: Dan Deacon's 'America'

Electronic music has expanded over the past year or so to the point where a guy in a mouse helmet tinkering on his laptop is a huge live draw, and another guy whose music sounds like a series of AOL dial-up tones is nearly as popular. Then there’s Dan Deacon.

While EDM (electronic dance music, if you’re not current on the lingo) bulges outward like an unwieldy balloon, Deacon remains very much at street level — and not just because of his penchant for performing while his audience presses in around him. His latest album, “America” (Domino), is in the electronic music scene without being of it. For one thing, “America” is deeply ambitious in scope: it’s a concept album about, well, America. For another, it seeks to understand, and not merely to escape.

Deacon’s various trips across the country inspired him to write music that attempts to evoke the beauty of the landscape, while the lyrics embody frustration with the state of American culture. The lyrics are sometimes buried under the music, which has excellent symbolic possibilities: Maybe the geography of the country is a commonality transcending the venal political and social machinations that seem to so easily ensnare us? Or maybe that’s reading too much into it. Either way, Deacon’s music is evocative. He dials in a metallic whirring on opener “Guilford Avenue Bridge,” layers twittering sounds over thumping rhythm on “True Thrush” and heads skyward with soaring, open keyboards on “Prettyboy.”

Deacon closes the album with a four-part song “USA” song cycle that flits over the landscape, sometimes with pulsing bombast and sometimes with reserved elegance — “USA III: Rail” does a remarkable job evoking the sheer vast space of America as it shifts subtly from plains to mountains, propelled by a rhythm as steady as a train chugging down a track as it rolls into the fourth part, “Manifest,” featuring Deacon’s dialogue with himself about the state of the nation. What’s he’s saying isn’t always discernable, but that’s not the point: part of the beauty of “America” is that you can draw your own conclusions.

— Eric R. Danton

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