Animal Collective are hardly the outliers when it comes to the trend of streaming new records in advance of their release date, and NPR’s First Listen is often the outlet that scores this privelege, as they have for Dan Deacon’s America, due out on Monday. Deacon is known for his manic, crowd-participatory live performances and electro-kitsch party music, and it surprised a lot of listeners to learn last year that he’d be scoring the new Francis Ford Coppola movie, Twixt. Yet, the experience highlighted the fact that the conservatory-trained musician has always kept one foot in both the lowest pop and highest art, a fact that finds its most balanced representation on America.
A title meant to stand in stark contrast to 2009’s nonsensical Bromst, America represents not only the identity crisis in Deacon’s music but as well in the homeland he claims not to have fully identified with until traveling through Europe following 2007’s breakout Spiderman of the Rings.
The first half of the record sets out in the manner of Bromst and Spiderman with up-tempo Casio workouts that fracture off into chattering polyrhythms and coalesce into sugar-high DIY party anthems. There’s marginally less chipmunk-voiced vocal parts on tracks like “True Thrush,” making the transition that happens in “Pretty Boy” less startling. As synthesizer sequences sparkle in the periphery and a bucolic woodwind figure emerges, it’s as if we’ve left the basement party and stumbled out into purple mountains majesty and amber waves of grain.
America isn’t exactly a patriotic opus, nor is it a cutting political statement; instead the four-part movement that makes up the record’s second half is a sonic exploration of both the sweeping American landscape and the DIY ingenuity of its contemporary citizens. “USA I: Is a Monster” seems pulled from the Aaron Copeland catalog, full of lush orchestration, before synthesizers bulldoze through, scribbling their way into “USA II: The American Desert.” Cinematic in a manner that must owe to his recent work with Coppola, the rest of the USA suite is an unprecedented combination choir, strings, 8-bit beats and minimalist mallet figures. With America, Deacon seems to be getting a little more serious. But it’s still a hell of a lot of fun.