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Dan Deacon - Spiderman of the Rings

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Artist: Dan Deacon

Album: Spiderman of the Rings

Label: Carpark

Review date: Apr. 25, 2007

On first glance, Dan Deacon is the kind of dude you'd see working at that dingy video store in the forgotten part of town. He's medium height, slightly balding, wears oversized spiderman shirts that are completely threadbare and his green, plastic eyeglasses are held together with duct tape. His outfit is so outrageous that it starts out being slightly creepy…then you realize that maybe it's ironic, but in the end, no…it's mostly creepy.

As a performer, Deacon throws himself into his work. He's been touring almost non-stop for the past three years with his one-man electronic, spastic, Devo birthday party extravaganza. Often, he will step right into the crowd to set up his table top filled with circuit boards, pedals, a sine wave generator, a vocoder, and various lights, bells and other oddities including a green, skull strobe light that sits menacingly guarding the open sea of equipment beneath it. This intimacy with the crowd allows curious onlookers a chance to gawk at the amazing array of gizmos and wangdoodles, and wonder just what it is that this creepy little mad scientist has done to produce such hip-bangin' weirdo grooves. While lording over this abstract array of "instruments," Deacon will jump about wildly, screaming into his microphone, stomping his feet and grinding into nearby audience members

Deacon considers himself an absurdist composer, perhaps more in line with the childish whimsy of Raymond Scott than the overtly ridiculous antics of Devo. Despite his ramshackle appearance and ringmaster showmanship, he is a classically trained composer with a Masters degree in electro-acoustic composition. His mission is admirable: to take the piss out of the stuffy world of academic composition and bring the "fun time" to the jaded hipster masses. And what better way to sway the hipsters than by assaulting their sensibilities with a dizzying array of lights, squeals, squonks and funky beats coupled with nonsensical lyrical sing-a-longs?

Along with a cadre of like-minded compatriots and other weirdos from the Baltimore area, Deacon and his friends from the artist collective Wham City have been lovingly referred to in the local press as part of the "Future shock" movement, a nod to Alvin Toffler's 1970 book of the same. In his book, Toffler goes on to coin the term "Information overload," an apt description for Deacon's latest endeavor, Spiderman of the Rings.

Copping moves from musique concrete artists like Pierre Henry, Morton Subotnick and Karlheinz Stockhausen, Deacon blends orchestral soundscapes from whizzing electronics and looped swashes of sine waves that smash together with furious force. Add to that an overlay of ridiculous pop culture and nonsensical animal imagery – be it a lion with a sharks head, woody woodpecker, pigs, mice, geese, horses, or even a lion with a sharks head – and there you have a peek into some of Deacon's deranged compositions. Whereas musique concrete is exceptionally self-conscious, Deacon's music throws all pretension to the floor and readily stomps it down. Like that of Henry, there is a sense of clanging whimsy to the compositional nature of Deacon's music. It's technical, yet fun, trashy and hilarious all at the same time.

The all too familiar cackle of Woody Woodpecker kicks off the album, as Deacon loops, tweaks and mangles the sample until it becomes part of gigantic wall of sounds that bounces every which way. The spasmatic "Snake Mistakes" takes a wiggling, extended bassline that dances alongside twinkly, synth gurgles as Deacon distortedly croons, "I make these snake mistakes, I make these pony roads. I know. Why won't these bees leave me alone? I hate them bees." In keeping with the animal theme, "The Crystal Cat" is a synaptic mind rambler, reminiscent of Neu! or early Suicide, albeit with nonsense lyrics about Beastman sung with a helium squeal. It's not the first time that Deacon has delved into animal obsession; his song Pizza Horse from his 2003 Live Recordings, contains the attention deficit, crowd-pleasing chorus of "Pizza! Horse! House Boat! Pizza! Spain!"

There is something genuine and honest behind Deacon's music that shines through in his compositions. When an artist composes and creates a sprawling epic of a song, then titles it "Pink Batman," it's hard to do anything but laugh at the absurd dichotomy – which is exactly the point he's trying to make. With the earnest intentions of a 5 year old playing in the sandbox, Dan Deacon stands poised as the Daniel Johnston of the electro-acoustic spazz-rock set, ready to reclaim "the fun."

By Dustin Drase

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