America: a country noted both for being “an evil, Earth destroying monster of war” and “simple beauty”. These are the words of Baltimore experimentalist Dan Deacon, whose eighth album, America, seeks to resolve these dichotomies through his own vision of what “America”, actually means. Tension is often a catalyst for creativity, and the contradictions of his subject matter, are weaved together with ample dexterity.
The album is a thrilling exploration of his experiences of travel, and arguably, a breakthrough in his own musical development. Classically trained with a CV boasting the score of a Francis Ford Coppola film, Deacon’s first album, Spiderman Of The Rings, was criticised for being a prolonged musical equivalent of a practical joke whilst Bromst, his second, is not exactly a tentative entrance into classical collaboration. Yet none of the correlative weaknesses of either appear in America.
‘Guildford Avenue Bridge’ is a frenetic and ear rattling opener, bursting the scepticism you might have inflated on hearing him described as an “electro-acoustic artist”. ‘True Thrush’ is a euphoric journey anthem that will have Animal Collective fans questioning their loyalty. ‘PrettyBoy’ is wistful and atmospheric, evoking huge landscapes and named after a reservoir. The second side, or USA takes a decidedly different turn, less pop more concept, with the entrance of a symphony orchestra which is blended skilfully throughout with the squelchy block chords that punctuated some of the songs on the first.
Deacon’s talk of “layering dichotomies” doesn’t speak to any brand of pompousness. America is successful in decanting what he takes to be some of the most prescient dualisms of the land, the life and the mind that is America, without the arrogance and paternalism that can sometimes accompany works meant to be expressly political. Deacon’s approach is more nuanced and one of the best releases this year.