Dan Deacon’s breakout 2007 record referenced comic superheroes and The Lord Of The Rings, made an entire song of Woody Woodpecker’s laugh, and contained such schoolyard boasts as “My dad is so cool … he would pick you up if I asked him to.” The 2009 follow-up Bromst was less whimsical, but the bold America is a jarring leap in maturity and ambition. The album’s broad title isn’t silly or facetious; tackling his theme in earnest, Deacon has created a record that mirrors its subject—vast, varied, and marked equally by beauty and turmoil. It’s not only a statement that Deacon is to be respected as a serious artist, but also one of the more thoughtful and complex albums so far this year.
Expanding on recent experiences in classical composition and film scores, Deacon’s stylistic focus is the fusion of electronic effects and acoustic instrumentation within the repetitious song structures that have defined his work. Warped synths and hammering drums swirl in patterned loops, frequently joined by woodwinds, brass, piano, and strings, both amplifying and tempering the aural chaos. On the record’s second half—a sprawling four-song, 21-minute suite titled “USA”—a chamber ensemble adds emotional drama to the noise, striking a fragile balance between energy and elegance. There’s a point to the contrast, as America encompasses both what Deacon does and does not like about his country. Much of the album gushes in celebration of our scenic grandeur: His songs are car windows through which towering mountains, endless plains, and spacious desert race past.
But these moments of patriotism rest uneasily alongside dark expressions of disillusionment and anger, often as direct commentary on American culture and attitudes. Deacon conveys this bitterness through aggressive tracks such as “Lots,” which surges with danceable clamor and frenetic dissonance, while the eclectic “True Thrush” punctures a brightly pulsing beat, surging bassline, and airy chant with caustic lyrics (“With the lies you’ve been sold / let the nightmare unfold” along with a robotic recitation of “We don’t own the world”). Yet America ultimately embraces splendor and nobility, even as it acknowledges personal and social anxiety. Not bad for a guy who used to flail around in cartoon-character T-shirts and glasses made of tape.