Dan Deacon – ‘Bromst’
June 30, 2009 § Leave a comment
Published: The Vine, April 27, 2009.
It only took one summer for Baltimore kid Dan Deacon to become the Australian indie scene’s tubby/sweaty/balding guy du jour. When the all-singing, all-dancing electro-noise merchant rolled into town for the 2008 Laneway Festivals with his first widely released album Spiderman of the Rings in tow, he took our palpitating hearts with him.
Spiderman’s screeching stabs of low-budget electro weirdness and lyrical peculiarities were enough to impress most; Deacon’s community-building, sweat-sharing, live dance fests put one hell of a cherry on top. Wielding little more than an aging Casio keyboard, a battered sequencer and a mic, the classically trained composer was making experimental music for the whole indie family.
In the context of such a love-in, follow-up record Bromst was all but guaranteed a trumped up reaction. And early reviews coming out of the States held true to form – so true, in fact, that it was difficult not to harbour at least a little cynicism towards this 64-minute beast. No disrespect to Deacon, but the ever-playful Spiderman wasn’t exactly what you would call an epic. My attitude changed when I received an urgent text from a friend, claiming that his first listen of Bromst had given him “a mind boner”. Something was clearly afoot. Boners of the mind don’t just pop up over nothing.
The quality that first characterises this record is departure. Rather than slap you in the face with a jolt of electronic noise, Bromst is all about accumulation. Surging opener ‘Build Voice’ isn’t even properly audible until almost a minute in – its oscillating micro vocal loop gradually sweeping into focus, before a rising, glittering tapestry of piano, saxophone, tumbling percussion and voice following its lead. The kitschy Casio line and rapid-fire beat of ‘Red F’ seem to direct us back into more standardised, noise-drenched Deacon territory, but even that opens out into a much more contemplative, gradually expanding scape. By the time we’ve reached the fragile glockenspiel and vibraphone opening of ‘Snookered’ – not to mention the delicate melodic twitter of the wondrous ‘Of the Mountains’ and the ambient drones of ‘Surprise Stefani’ – you could be forgiven for thinking you were listening to genteel Icelanders Múm.
It’s a sensibility that comes to define Bromst. Unconvinced with merely filling the role of the wacky noise guy, it’s as if Deacon is re-exploring and re-imagining his compositional past. Where Spiderman revelled in asymmetry, these compositions swoon with rich dynamics and layers, every pulse revealing yet another nuance. The beauteous ‘Wet Wings’ – startlingly vocalised via a haunting, interlocked sample of Jean Ritchie singing traditional folk song ‘The Day is Past and Gone’ – is a revelation.
But the really great thing about this record is that while Deacon has matured, he hasn’t disowned his past. Layers and contemplations aside, sonically this is very much vintage Deacon. There’s still the warped, effect-riddled chipmunk vocals, the chunks of electro-fuzz, the crazy samples and low-bit-rate dog barks – check the brilliant ‘Woof Woof’ for proof – it’s just that he has framed such details in much wider, more considered panorama. This isn’t just music to make you jump and dance; this is music to make you think and feel.
The gushy reviews and wild-eyed, sweaty-browed praise were pretty much spot on. Forget doubts and preconceptions – Bromst will have minds boning up all over the place.