Dan Deacon Writes His American Opus

Electronic musician casts wide, patriotic net on new album

August 9, 2012 1:00 PM ET
Dan Deacon
Dan Deacon
Stephen J. Cohen/Getty Images

Dismayed by the political and economic situation in the United States, the electronic composer Dan Deacon set out to make an album that looked beyond the negative connotations of America and celebrated its broad expanse and urban appeals.

"The music is inspired by the geography of the United States," Deacon explains to Rolling Stone. "The beautiful deserts, the mountains, the forests, the coasts. But also the beautiful cities that are rapidly decaying in front of our eyes."

The aptly titled America, due out August 28th on Domino Records, is Deacon's tribute to the country he has come to love, from the deserts of New Mexico to the Guilford Avenue Bridge in his hometown of Baltimore. The ambitious album is separated into two distinct sides: the pop-oriented Side A and the sprawling, 21-minute long track "USA," which takes up the entire Side B.

"I listened to Low by Bowie during the writing process," Deacon says, referring to the 1977 album that David Bowie recorded with Brian Eno. "Low was the affirmation of this being OK. This makes sense. The A-side will serve as a build-up for the B-side. The only difference is that the B contains no breaks."

The electronic pop on the first half of America echoes the party atmosphere of Baltimore's Wham City collective. There is the explosive, chaotic nature of "True Thrush" and "Lots" but also the ambient, contemplative "Prettyboy" – named after the Prettyboy Reservoir, which is an hour outside of the city.

"I started thinking of places I would go to achieve the same feeling I was trying to get the song to invoke," Deacon says about the Baltimore County respite. "Prettyboy is a place where a lot of people like to go be among nature and trees."

Keeping with the geographic theme, America veers into "Crash Jam," a song about a pit stop in the New Mexico desert during a near-disastrous tour, before diving into the epic B-side of "USA."

"I realized this was gonna be a long, evolving song," Deacon says about the four-part track. "When I started the second section, I kept thinking about a road trip, traveling from one section of the country, slowly transitioning to the next. Sometimes those transitions are instantaneous; sometimes they're slow-evolving. And that started to shape the music."

Like Deacon's last album, Bromst, the new record moves away from strictly electronic format and relies on a chamber ensemble drawn from both the Baltimore music scene and the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University. Completely departing from the electronic feel is "USA III: Rail," a driving, minimalist composition about how trains connect disparate parts of the country.

"It's chamber music in the middle of this storm of synthesizers," Deacon says. "The track is all acoustic and still carries that same pulse and drive and energy as the other tracks... it chugs along like a train, like it's on a track."

Though his music and soundscapes depict the beauty and poetic nature of his homeland, Deacon's lyrics display his distaste for consumer culture. Citing the influence of the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street movements, Deacon wanted to make an album that signified the counterculture of our time. "Ultimately, I want the record to be euphoric and have people feel inspired and empowered," he says. "We have so much art that's vapid, and it's candy. It's just there to pass time and sell cars and to make people feel more detached. And I'm tired of that."

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