City's imaginative native matures

Cd Review

March 24, 2009|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,


Dan Deacon

[Carpark Records] *** (3 STARS)

Rolling in the dirt, his enormous glasses slipping off his face, his shirt wet with sweat, Dan Deacon led what felt like an electro-pop revival inside a packed sweltering tent at the Virgin festival at Pimlico. That was two summers ago, and he had just released Spiderman of the Rings, his national critical breakthrough.

The Baltimore artist had long built his reputation in and around the city and beyond on shows like the one at the Virgin festival. Goofy, manic and completely unpredictable, Deacon's performances involve the audience. He shuns the stage and literally gets down with the people. It's often an exhilarating experience as Deacon's frenetic, pitch-shifting music jolts and assaults the nerves.

A highly creative arranger, he brings that same kind of musical mania to the studio. As a result, his albums are often inaccessible outside the performance realm. But on Bromst, his new CD out Tuesday, the artist wisely tempers some of the cartoonish aspects that threaten to overtake Spiderman of the Rings. Instead, the arrangements breathe a little more with meditative atmospheric touches. The heavily programmed tracks are warmed in spots with live instrumentation: drums, marimba, piano. The album feels more like a mature "statement," spotlighting Deacon's imaginative arranging skills.

But make no mistake: The music is still wild, brimming with buzzing synthesizers, rubbery beats and warp-speed tempos. The noticeable difference on Bromst is Deacon's use of voice. Munchkin-like voices, droning chants and indecipherable vocal samples are woven through with lots of reverb. The effect is avant-garde, to be sure, and slightly recalls the approach used on Merriweather Post Pavilion, the acclaimed new album by Baltimore band Animal Collective.

"Big Voice," the standout opening cut, is a sharp example of Deacon's use of voices. It works as a natural introduction to Bromst, which glints and erupts with artful noises. The sounds rush over in a hot, hard wave of electronica before receding and revealing smoother, attractive elements. "Snookered," the most ambitious cut on the album, rolling on for more than eight minutes, is the best example of the artist's musical juxtaposition of the intense and the sublime.

Like most artists returning to the studio after a "hit," Deacon broadens his musical direction. Much of his style as heard on Spiderman remains the same, just richer and smoother. Where the last album felt off-the-cuff and splattered with Crayola paints, Bromst feels more structured and carefully shaded with darker hues. The result is a fully realized album - an expansive effort where Deacon's artistic maturity doesn't supersede his refreshing sense of whimsy.

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