A sense of community has always been the foundation of Dan Deacon’s existence. As a founder of the Wham City collective and organizer of the annual Whartscape festival, he was the spiritual leader of Baltimore’s experimental music scene, and helped make the city ground zero for do-it-yourself, art-damaged music of all kinds. (Imagine Brooklyn, but with actual credibility.)
At his concerts, Deacon adopted the role of fun facilitator, taking audience participation to new levels and often performing his blasts of electro-mayhem while hunched over samplers and surrounded by his adoring fans. He is a man of the people, yet he made his mark as a recording artist who did everything on his own.
“America” is the culmination of Deacon’s transformation to band leader, collaborator and statement-maker. His recent tours saw him fronting the Dan Deacon Ensemble, a clanging and clattering group that gave his songs a hearty, percussive backbone. This new album follows down that path while maintaining Deacon’s distinctive brand of hyperactive, synthesizer-driven warehouse anthems and playing up his abilities as a composer.
The first half of “America” contains the type of songs Deacon has become best known for: hard-charging jock jams for people who have never been friends with a jock. “Lots” and “Guilford Avenue Bridge” are straightforward adrenaline rushes, their accessibility only slightly dampened by obscured vocals and invasive bleeps.
The second half of the album — a 21-minute suite of songs that each begin with the title “USA” — is described as a “sonic travelogue,” and finds Deacon joined by members of the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University. It’s a very modern movement that expertly balances harsh noises with classically pretty string flourishes, Hollywood-worthy score breakdowns and tribal pounding. Deacon’s words are rarely audible enough to figure out an overarching theme (the lyrics sheet helps with that), but an expanded musical landscape results in Deacon’s most unified vision to date.
“Lots,” “USA: II. The Great American Desert,” “USA: IV. Manifest”