It takes a certain type of self-confidence to Sharpie tits on a map of the United States and call it album art, or loop the sliced-up laugh of Woody Woodpecker for three-and-a-half minutes and call it an opening track. It takes a very different type of self-confidence to craft something as complex, varied, and yet wholly likeable and listenable as “Prettyboy,” one of the most intrepid compositions on Dan Deacon’s newest release, America.
Now, critics are always accusing artists of growing up, and whether it’s a compliment or an insult depends on the critic and the artist, but Deacon seems to have accepted who he is as an artist, and it’s made him braver. America is a bold, brash album, and Deacon’s recently discovered or perhaps simply accepted maturity — and here it’s definitely a compliment — is seen on tracks like the aforementioned “Prettyboy,” a song that dons its rather majestic pop feel like a well-tailored suit, proud and sure of itself, despite the fact that it knows it’ll stand out in a crowd. The truth is that the tune wouldn’t have been allowed a seat on Meetle Mice or Spiderman of the Rings, and listeners get the sense that it was a big deal for Deacon to let the song leave the house wearing what it was wearing.
Split into halves, America is comprised of Deacon’s adventurous noise pop for its first 21 minutes. Tempos are fast, and rhythms are complex. “Crash Jam” clocks in at 181 beats per minute, and “Guildford Avenue Bridge” toys within its own dizzying time signatures. The second half is a single composition, quartered. “USA,” parts I-IV, opens with stately strings and subtle brass before adding electronics and vigorous percussion. Part III (“Rail”) would hush a crowd with its quiet, symphonic hypnosis, cello and piano masquerading as marimba and other mallet-played instruments. Part IV (“Manifest”) then pummels its way forward (westward?), returning to several segments of Part I in a two-fisted finale.
“USA” doesn’t necessarily stand out sonically from the rest of America, but in terms of scope, it feels like a masterpiece, a definitive move forward for Deacon, just like “Prettyboy.” Plus, the anthemic blend of strings, electronics, and shouting voices is a guaranteed rabble-rouser, which is just what we need in an election year. Though Part I of “USA” is subtitled “Is a Monster,” America certainly isn’t anti-American. Instead, it’s Dan Deacon’s America, which, it turns out, is invigorating.