Sixty odd years ago the collective youth of America decided they were tired of the stuffy music their parents – and their parents’ parents – had grown up listening to and invented rock ‘n’ roll. But there were some who still believed in the more complex charms of classical composition (Phillip Glass, Terry Riley, Steve Reich et al), and now, it would seem, Dan Deacon – the de facto leader of Baltimore, Maryland’s “Wham City” DIY arts scene – is keen to show the indie kids that music can be majestic if you’re prepared to just think big. And we’re not just talking a couple of extra guitars here. America, Deacon’s latest long-player, is a song cycle inspired by cross-country bus rides and homesickness for a nation he never even realised he loved until he left it; returning to the States after a lonely European tour, Deacon realised he was – and always would be – “an American”, and set about using his formal training in classical composition to create a very modern and very individual tribute to his homeland. Whilst there have always been elements of grandeur in Deacon’s work, be it in the massed synths of his debut Spiderman Of The Rings or follow-up Bromst‘s ear-splitting sample symphonies, America shows a different kind of ambition altogether. A record of two halves, side one comprises five “pop” songs featuring elements familiar from its predecessors (overdriven keyboard riffs, walls of polyphonic noise, short-circuiting electronics, acoustic percussion and glitching programmed beats); the second side, though, takes things to another level, with a suite in four movements entitled “USA” that adds to the aforementioned list of components strings, brass, woodwinds and massed choirs and recalls in its scope and spirit works by composers like John Cage and, particularly, Aaron Copland. Quite what relevance any of this has to America specifically is beyond me (sure, I can hear how the marimbas and horns represent rolling rivers and train whistles, but don’t most of the planet’s larger countries boast a river and a railway?), and although I’m confident Deacon – who studied the theory behind such things – could explain it all very eloquently, I’m equally sure it doesn’t actually matter. One’s ability to appreciate this album isn’t hampered by not being “an American”, just as non-Brits (I’m reliably informed) found much to enjoy in the recent Olympic Games’ opening ceremony shit-show; in fact, regardless of its creator’s nationality, America would have made just as fitting a soundtrack to that extravaganza as the homegrown talent (Underworld, Fuck Buttons) that actually did the honours. In terms of process and product, there’s nothing overly remarkable about what Deacon has done here, but it’s a whole lot of fun, and extra credit is due for reminding us that classical music – or music that incorporates classical elements – needn’t be as po-faced as the likes of Grizzly Bear would have us believe. Following recent performances leading orchestras at upmarket venues like Carnegie Hall, it would seem fair to assume Deacon will soon be attracting a more “respectable” crowd than the punks and pill-poppers he’s used to; America will have them dancing in the aisles.
America is out now via Domino Recording Co. Listen to “True Thrush” below and stream the whole album at the Guardian website.