Sunday, October 25, 2009

#71. Dan Deacon - Bromst (Carpark, 2009)

It’s really kind of awkward when an artist makes an album that you love then follows it up with something that seems specifically designed to highlight just how much the prior release was lacking. I’m not talking about artists who make a great debut and then do a stylistic 180 between it and its follow up, but those instances where the follow up takes only the best parts of its predecessor and builds on them at the expense of the other elements. The latter type of transformation usually results in a great album that reveals just how much its predecessor was lacking, forcing a bit of a reappraisal of its quality if you’re into that sort of thing. It doesn’t happen a lot, but when it does it’s incredibly satisfying to witness.

I didn’t expect Dan Deacon to make that sort of a leap after his 2007 breakthrough release Spiderman of the Rings. It isn’t that I loved that album so much that I would find it hard to imagine any improvements, but the niche factor it accumulated once there was enough hype built around it made it seem a bit antithetical for Deacon to do anything but continue strictly in that vein. I was expecting a follow up full of “Wham City” and “Crystal Cat” soundalikes, which to be fair would have been very enjoyable if a bit slight, or an album with the same atmosphere of ceaseless giddiness permeating its every pore. I wasn’t expecting a much darker, much more cohesive unit of songs. I wasn’t expecting epic scope. I was not expecting anything like Bromst, and I’m glad that he delivered it instead of the theoretical albums I described earlier.

As different as it is atmospherically, it’s still clearly a Dan Deacon album. The hallmarks of his particular brand of indie electronic are still here in full force, but the way that he applies them here is much more impressive. Spiderman of the Rings was a Technicolor post-electro playground where the rides were all free as long as you knew the words to “Wham City” and as long as you didn’t enter it completely jaded it would be impossible to not have fun. Bromst is that same playground after dark, when the fun is balanced out by the sense that around every corner there’s an evil clown with a helium voice waiting to startle you. You still have fun if you aren’t jaded, but it’s not the sort of fun that Spiderman offered, and because of that it intrigues me a lot more. Something like the albums’ highlight, the eight minute horn abetted “Snookered,” makes the comparison clear; at its heart it isn’t all that different from something like “Trippy Green Skull” from Spiderman but the way its played gives it a lot more emotional heft. There’s pathos in the lyrics, there’s sadness in the arrangement, it’s multi-faceted in a way that I’d never have imagined Deacon could be and that sort of breadth carries over into the remaining tracks as well. Sure there’s still the pure joy of stuff like “Padding Ghost” and “Woof Woof” but on the whole Bromst succeeds in expanding Deacon’s emotional and musical profile without making too much of it.

On top of that, there are no signs of growing pains on Bromst, even as the songs get longer (almost half cross the 6-minute mark) and incorporate more varied instrumentation. If anything it’s an even more assured record than its predecessor in how readily it embraces the broader scope and the changing moods. It actually sounds like Deacon coming into his own as an artist as opposed to the high-quality borderline novelty vibe that Spiderman of the Rings gave off. That’s not to say that it’s so vastly different from its predecessor that they barely sound like they came from the same mind, but as I said earlier it’s like the best parts of Spiderman drawn out in their full glory without the more worrying parts to distract from them. Bromst actually gives me the sense that Deacon is more than a flash-in-the-pan who happened to come out with the right album at the right time, and givesme hope that he could be a leading light in this genre for a few years to come.

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