Dan Deacon: “Bromst”
I can’t listen to Dan Deacon’s song “Snookered” without being reminded of old-timey gospel music. It’s not it resembles gospel music in either its form– it’s a slow-building, densely layered, eight-minute epic– or in its sound– there’s no church organ, but plenty of electronics– so much as it captures the spirit of a gospel song, beginning with what sounds like a weary trudge up a mountain before reaching a glorious peak, with Deacon’s lyric signifying a journey that could be life, faith, or even ordinary, real-world traveling: “Been wrong so many times before, but never quite like this.” After that, I’m pretty sure he says something about rain turning into bliss, and the whole song seems to exhude a certain sense of catharsis, as though it’s the sound of someone reaching a plateau of peace and acceptance after a long, steep climb.
That word “signifying” is, I think, a pretty good way of summarizing exactly what Deacon does; though he creates sounds and landscapes that can sound alien, he also has a weird gift for making them sound familiar, picking sounds and structure that signify well-worn emotions and thematic conceits to us. It might be easy to forget that Deacon– whose last album was called Spiderman of the Rings, and whose favorite production trick is altering his voice to sound like a choir of chipmunks– is a conservatory-trained musician, and he brings to his music not only a prankster’s sense of fun and whimsy, but also a composer’s sense of craft. The songs on his new album, Bromst, contain plenty of the sonic wankery on which he made his reputation, but also a compositional focus and grace, as each piece feels like it’s moving toward a clear horizon, each song fitting in as part of a larger journey.
And it is very much a journey, a piece of music that sounds like it was constructed to signify a physical landscape and a spiritual one at the same time. There are peaks, of course– nost noteably the euphoric mountain song “Snookered”– but also valley passages of… well, not exactly darkness, but weirdness, such as the sampled ethnic chanting of “Wet Wings” and the elastic, cartoony rock of “Woof Woof.” Indeed, the songs can almost be divided into two halves, mirroring the two facets of Deacon’s ever-maturing art: Some songs suggest an emotional journey of breahtaking beauty and awe, while others are exercises in flat-out weirdness that simply have to be heard to be believed. To his credit, Deacon has grown a great deal as a composer, and he’s made a record of deep feeling and sophistication without compromising his nerdy sense of humor or his love of quirky, cartoony sounds.
Bromst also differs from Spiderman in that it’s the first Dan Deacon release to prominently feature acoustic instruments, alongside his keyboards and electro-gizmos, and he makes it all sound very organic. The first track, “Build Voice,” establishes the blueprint that the rest of the album follows, both in its sound and its title, as each track starts off relatively simply before slowly picking up steam and adding new instruments, as though new voices are continually joining the choir. This is another of Deacon’s great gifts: That he is able to capture the sound and spirit of community, each track feeling like a celebration in which anyone is allowed to pick up an instrument and join in the ruckus.
In other words: Bromst signifies a journey, but it isn’t one that we must or should take alone. It’s the sound of a swarm of pilgrims, treking together through the same valleys and peaks. And if the ocassional chipmunk choir suggests that Deacon is having plenty of fun along the way, there are enough somber moments to prove that he is taking it seriously. He’s grown up just the right amount for Bromst, a bizarre and beautiful record that suggests its maker has wells of joy and ingenuity he’s just beginning to tap.