By Gabriel Meier
Having been around for a decade-plus, Baltimore, Maryland-based musician Dan Deacon’s legacy has begun to come into focus, his performance art-cum-process music-cum-pop tidbits making more and more sense in the context of the 2000s and beyond. Arriving on the scene with 2007s Spiderman of the Rings LP, Deacon has been compared to everyone from Baltimore compatriots Animal Collective to Steve Reich and The Jesus and Mary Chain. And while Spiderman of the Rings established Deacon as an electro-DIY maven, the bearded composer has spent the better part of the past eight years jumping from sound to sound, churning out everything from cyclical, percussive jams to soaring, Smiths-inspired ballads.
2015 marks the release year of Deacon’s ninth album, Gliss Riffer, and the effort is his by far his most pop forward yet. Whereas Spiderman of the Rings lambasted and twisted pop hooks into oblivion and 2009’s Bromst (both released on Carpark Records) pinched little bits of pop and spun them into long-form masterpieces, Gliss Riffer sees Deacon put on a more traditional, especially on album opener “Feel The Lightning” and the rest of the opening half of the record. Of course, the record ends with three 6:45+ efforts, but those tracks come across as more-or-less engaged with the contemporary cultural zeitgeist, whether that comes across as influence from London’s art school PC Music collective or the droning assault of Warp act Battles.
But opening with “Feel The Lightning”, a closing credit record if I’ve ever heard one, sets the tone for the rest of Gliss Riffer, the female vocals and sawing synth line leading the way into a reverb-drenched, sepia-toned future. Whereas Deacon’s vocal work has proven flamboyant and improvisational in the past, “Feel The Light”, as well as “When I was Done Dying” and “Sheathed Wings” show Deacon giving his best Morissey impression, flexing off his dusty baritone in more or less straight forward performances.
A glissando, the root of the album’s name, is a rapid ascending (or descending) stream of sequential notes, of which there are many in Deacon’s work and the instrumental moments of Gliss Riffer, Deacon essentially twiddling off long glissando’s prove to be the records bright spots. “Take It To The Max” is a pristine, wood wind-assisted number that recalls Oneohtrix Point Never’s best work. A twisting, prog-inspired journey through digitized sound that seems primed for soundtrack usage. “Steely Blues” isn’t entirely instrumental, featuring Deacon’s signature pitched up, cartoonish vocals, but its sparkling sheen only briefly hides the rough underbelly, a coagulation of richly textured 808 hits and clanging piano notes. It’s these moments where Deacon’s DIY spirit and performative ethos come to the fore and where his abilities as a beat composer are truly highlighted.
So while Gliss Riffer does come across as indie pop by-the-numbers at times, Deacon’s adventurous spirit and sneaky good hook writing make it a must listen. For fans of acts like Arcade Fire, “Feel The Lightning” will be a smash hit, a surprisingly sad, feel good anthem that should make the rounds on college radio for months. For those more inclined to Deacon’s manic dance party action, the guttural response might be to toss this record in the trash, but if they have enough patience to reach the crescendos of “Take It To The Max”, their pleasure centers will be going off full blast. On the whole, Gliss Riffer might not be a huge step forward for Deacon the artist, but having operated for well over a decade at the fringe of the pop avant-garde that isn’t necessarily the album’s prime goal.