Listening Party: Dan Deacon's wide-ranging 'Gliss Riffer,' fizzy, muted, and great

City Paper

Where have all the ’00s-era indie-rock party monsters gone? The Rapture fell off, then apart. LCD Soundsystem exploded and dispersed. Andrew W.K. hung up his lampshade to lecture, host, and theorize. Among the handful of remaining body-motion practitioners from that now-troughed wave, Dan Deacon may be the most legitimately and consistently fascinating. Fizzy and muted, “Gliss Riffer” (Domino) continues the Baltimore-based artist’s ongoing probe of party rock’s outer limits—an appropriate tonic for an audience aging alongside a performer whose glittery, anthemic 2007 debut suggested a flaming mummy flailing through Wham City, draped in Christmas lights. While 2009’s “Bromst” flirted openly with pop palatability and 2012’s “America” explored dissonance as cross-country travelogue, on “Gliss Riffer” Deacon splits the difference between wilder-eyed mutations of his songwriting aesthetic and experimental conservatory fare. The party is evolving.

‘Sheathed Wings’ casts tinniness as virtue, with Deacon boogie-boarding a runaway deluge of denatured, ecstatic samples and canned horns that teeters between celebratory and ghastly. A fevered pulse of crisped synth-pop and madlibbedphrasingruntogether, ‘Feel The Lightning’ is one-third wistful Marble Valley ballad, one-third ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’ send-up, one-third wink at Savage Garden’s ‘Cherry Cola.’ Deacon feeds the chorus of twitchy, twinkling ‘Mind of Fire’ through a garbling electronic prism. The oxymoronically titled ‘Learning To Relax,’ oozing with cyborg wistfulness, is the closest to devil-may-care Stereolab pastiche that his muse has led him yet.

“Gliss Riffer” truly stuns, though, when it transitions from the populist into the conceptual. Consider the hiccupping, pre-set drone bop of ‘Meme Generator,’ where diced vocal carousels stipple stirring streaks of New Age keyboard. Deacon combats his own compositional nature on ‘Steely Blues,’ where a tendency to favor sheets of straight-up blips and bloops is supplanted by swiped, dashed tones that eventually bleed into a single gorgeous choral hum that gradually and slowly fades out. Arguably more striking is ‘Take It To The Max’—an extended workout that loops flutes, piano samples, a cunningly arranged splay of electronic tones, and chaotically chopped voices into dazzling avant-pop that quotes African drum LPs, Steve Reich, and remix culture at large. If you stumbled into a friend’s home unawares while ‘Take It To The Max’ was playing, no one would blame you if you couldn’t quite put your finger on the musician responsible for it.

And so, again and again, blurring layers and vocal-filter sleet pile up in a sonic slush as kinetic as it is inventively rejuvenating; the crude brute thrills of something like ‘Woody Woodpecker,’ from “Spiderman of the Rings,” seem light-years removed now. Indeed, Deacon’s recent work in scoring for films and theater has served to expand his artistic range significantly; one can as easily imagine crowds undulating or nodding along to these new songs, even as several tunes could handily soundtrack a gallery installation piece. Yet it might be interesting sometime—if only just briefly—for Deacon to stand before the world, unadorned and unclouded by dense, impeccably programmed beehives, with a regular microphone in hand. 

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