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Dan Deacon - America

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Artist: Dan Deacon

Album: America

Label: Ribbon

Review date: Sep. 7, 2012

If I’m critical of a band or artist in a review, it’s usually because I see something of worth or something noble the artist was aiming for and missed. Unless it’s indicative of some repugnant aesthetic trend, an album that’s completely awful just isn’t worth writing about, especially considering mortality and the whole “spending your life in the pursuit of worthwhile things” thing. And while I feel bad (I’ve certainly gotten critical — and worse — reviews of my own work), I don’t think I write something negative without a reason, and I don’t think it’s meaningless snark. Hopefully, in some way, it adds to the experience of listening to the artist.

I start here because I was fairly critical of Dan Deacon’s previous album, Bromst. This wasn’t to earn my Internet Prick Certificate or be contrarian, but because I thought that he could do better, that he made an album that touched upon something beautiful, but that also basked in the puerile, detracting from that real beauty. Beauty’s tough to come by in this shitty world we live in, so when I see an artist capable of making something graceful but that’s buried that in hip clichés, I’m disappointed. On America, Deacon makes something truly wonderful and enjoyable.

The real problem with Bromst and Spiderman of the Rings was that he indulged in the hip aesthetic of our age. That means the kind of aesthetic that prizes style over substance, a vapid aesthetic that’s especially prevalent here in New York. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with it — not every piece of art has to be so totally spiritually fulfilling that your soul fucking bursts, but hip is not a meaningful aesthetic.

Deacon notes on his website that he called this album America because, “When I was writing Bromst, I wanted a title with no pre-existing meaning, something free of any prior associations. For this album, I wanted the exact opposite. America is a word with an infinite range of connotations, both positive and negative. Even its literal definition is open to discussion. In using it as the title of the album, in a small way, I’m contributing to the discussion. To me, the underground DIY and wilderness are just as American as their evil brethren, corporatism and environmental destruction. It’s that juxtaposition of fundamentally opposed ideologies that makes up the American landscape.”

Because “America” is a word with an infinite range of connotations though, it’s also a word that’s diluted and means nothing. Nothing and everything all at once, its meaning shifts from context to context, and because of that ambiguity, it’s both a mind-boggling word and something we – at least we in America – intimately know, even if we can’t articulate it. Hiding behind the word is a dense, complex, interconnected and contradictory nest of meanings that are metonymic for the country they represent.

But as I wrote when I was discussing Nico Muhly, this is exactly what beauty is — something so great and complex that we can’t grasp it with our minds. That pleasurable feeling we get from sublime art is our brains trying to keep up with the sensory overload. It’s the same kind of feeling you’d get from trying to unpack the meaning of “America” or from trying to capture what this country is about succinctly, and what makes America great is that it’s a musical approximation of this; it’s full of complexity and contradictions, and trying to grasp it is impossible. But what a joy to attempt.

By Andrew Beckerman

Other Reviews of Dan Deacon

Acorn Master

Spiderman of the Rings


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