Dan Deacon has said that he wanted his last album Bromst (QRO review) to be free of prior associations, hence the meaningless title. He has also been explicit in his desire for his new album America to be the opposite. He wants it to conjure up not just his vision of the United States, but all of the nearly infinite associations that people have with the word and the place, even if (perhaps especially if) some of those are at odds.
Whether or not you know that what Dan Deacon is trying to express is America itself, it is clear that he is trying to express many things through the diversity of the record. It starts with “Guilford Avenue Bridge”, an instrumental composition that is nearly four minutes. Despite being well formed and having a song-like length, it seems like it is meant as an intro of sorts, perfectly blending the beauty and discord that will characterize the rest of the album. The next song “True Thrush” has the potential to be a bona fide hit single. Slowly building into a Technicolor party, there is an indescribable bittersweet undercurrent that is palpable without even hearing the lyrics. The video for it is a must-see, featuring a game of video telephone that tests the bounds of human perception, memory, and cooperation.
The next track “Lots” is a full-on explosion, a punk rock riot hidden underneath layers and layers of electronic hisses and squawks. In contrast is the following piece, “Prettyboy”. Named after a reservoir and scenic area near Baltimore, it is a shimmery ode to the natural wonder of the US, a theme that will recur during the closing epic. “Crash Jam” returns to the noisier ways of the opener and “Lots”. The track swirls, with different things happening at all different timescales.
The rest of the album is comprised of the sprawling and cinematic instrumental “USA”, which comes in four parts: “Is a Monster”, “The Great American Desert”, “Rail”, and “Manifest”. “USA I: Is a Monster” starts off with a tense and building string section for two minutes before suddenly diving into an electronic blender that slowly becomes more and more melodic without losing any power, eventually featuring a reprise of the original string theme. “USA II: The Great American Desert” starts off sounding more like a forest, with chirps and scratches from all directions. This slowly relents to a tribal drumbeat that seems more evocative of the title. “USA III: Rail” is a symphony of instrumental and electronic clattering, all over a morphing beat that gives you the impression of traversing a changing landscape at a changing speed. “USA IV: Manifest” grows out of this clatter, turning the beat way up while dropping all other sounds except ominous mechanical scrapes. Eventually, harmonies and a distant melody work their way through before taking control and ending with the string theme that started “Is a Monster”, conjoined with the beat and scrapes that began “Rail”.
Dan Deacon manages to pull off the supremely ambitious job of tackling something as immense and inexactly defined as America by delivering a piece of work that emulates those exact properties. This is a big piece of work that is many things at once, but somehow cohesive. After all, that is Deacon’s point about America – that it is many things to many people, but we are all in it together.