Over the past couple weeks, both political parties gave us their vision for Amerca’s future at their respective conventions, and the difference couldn’t have been starker. At the Republican National Convention, conservatives took to the stage to wax ecstatic about the America that once existed before the evil Obama came along and ruined it all. Jon Stewart said it best, “The message of this convention is that apparently up until about November of 2008, Americans lived in a utopian ideal born of our own gumption and individual hard work.” The Democrats, on the other hand, presented a vision for the future, begging Americans to give Barrack Obama another four years to make it happen. Basically, one party looks to the past while another aims for the future.
In Dan Deacon’s latest opus “America,” this same clash of views can be found in his blend of classic orchestration and in your face futuristic electronic blips and hisses. But this dichotomy of sound goes beyond the political landscape – it forces these two beasts to face off – an audio battle royale where the grand American landscape goes nine rounds with the technological progress that dares to spit into the wind. It’s Cowboys vs. Indians, North vs. South, Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant, all wrapped into one ambitiously, epic album.
“USA I: Is a Monster”:
The idea of an electronic artist attempting to make a concept album about such a grand subject matter may seem a bit over-reaching and self-indulgent, but if anyone can pull it off, the highly talented Dan Deacon can. Deacon’s musical education has been widely chronicled, and his expertise in the world of music has never been more on display than on “America.” While his past two albums were often spastic, confusing splatters of frenzied racket like a musical Jackson Pollock, the latest album shows Deacon softening his approach, allowing songs to traverse the hills and valleys of his American landscape. Songs like “USA III- The Rail” take time to build up toward the mounting threat of the electronic menace that arrives on the next track, “USA IV- Manifest.”
“USA III – The Rail”:
The album is comprised of two basic parts, the second half being a four-part dedication to America reminiscent of San Sebastian Strings motif albums like “The Sea” and “Summer.” The beginning of the album is classic Deacon with five of the six first tracks being the frenetic party fans have grown to love. I was never a fan of Deacon’s past work, but on “America” he’s found the pop song buried beneath the electronic swoops of clamor and dusted it off. Don’t worry – it is all still loud, lively, and in your face – but instead of making noise palettes, he’s created legitimate pop songs. On the first three tracks his melodic sense is on display with “Guilford Avenue Bridge,” “True Thrush,” and “Lots,” while on “Pretty Boy” he reveals his softer side.
The video for “True Thrush” is the type of childish fun that was missing from this year’s VMAs:
My only complaint with “America” is the album is such a disjointed, two part affair. I would have preferred to see the four part American exploration fleshed out more. Subject matter like the great American landscape requires much more than 22-minutes to be fully captured. The first half of the album, on the other hand, is just the starting point to what could have been one of the best party albums of the year. The result is two very different, promising, incomplete albums, dropped side-by-side for the listener to try and piece together. Despite the mid-album crevice, the two parts don’t battle with each other, they simply learn to get along. I guess that’s more than can be said about politicians of today.