Psychologist Abraham Maslow places self-actualization at the top of his hierarchy of needs, the ability to accept one's own being for what it is. It is not until we are placed outside of our comfort zones that this is tested most, and also given a comparative entity. Dan Deacon prefaces his newest release, America, with a beautiful tale of how he never really identified as "American" until he left the country on a world tour. What he sets out to do on America is provide his own definition of what it is to be "American," challenging both the world view and personal self-reflection.
America debuts with "Guilford Avenue Bridge", a sprawling, complex track that seems to lift itself languidly out of a static caul. At about the three minute point, the static comes back but molded into a colorful mass, undulating engagingly. From that point, the album continues Deacon's "HOLY SHIT, LET'S PARTY" music, right up until "Prettyboy", a veiled slow jam much like Spiderman of the Rings' "Big Milk". Deacon is completely aware of the song's effect on the album flow, as he follows it with the crescendoing "Crash Jam", a track so aptly named and paced. But it is what comes after "Crash Jam" that makes America such a noteworthy release from the Maryland-based artist.
"Crash Jam" is followed by a suite in four parts, each title starting with "USA." The first of which, "USA I: Is a Monster", starts out with symphonic strings followed by the over-torqued electronics Deacon has made his trademark. These saliently evoke the dichotomy between organic and digital instruments Deacon mentions in his cathartic tale most. By introducing what sound like Native American tribal chants, he begins his direct narrative of American history. "USA II: The Great American Desert" takes over where "Is a Monster" deposits all its dial tone feedback and frantic loops, finally taking shape at about the 1:30 mark. The seven minute track reintroduces Deacon's vocals, which have been heavily coded in digital artifacts throughout the album, now coated with a shining layer of reverb, an ethereal result. It drags on a little toward the five minute mark, for a whole minute, until almost all the digital instruments give way to xylophones and drums, eventually flowing over into pizzicato strings that transition into "USA III: Rail", the most beautiful of the four part suite. By the end of "Rail", I am reminded of what Sufjan Stevens was doing on Illinois, with its sweeping instrumentation and arrangements. Where we end, "USA IV: Manifest", has Deacon going back to the overcrowded digital realm he's from, ostensibly the America he most identifies with. It combines different elements from the first three parts into a track that appropriately evokes the strong song title. "Manifest" breaches into clarity at 2:25 and resolves accordingly; finally, the journey of self-actualization is complete and Deacon has found an America he can identify with: his own.
What we're left with at the end of America is an album that struggles with as much as it accomplishes. If you're a fan of Dan Deacon, the release should find you pleased with the growing pains. If you're just a dabbler in electronic music, America may confound you. But the album is dense, rewarding, and challenging, as most great albums are, so be sure not to sleep on this one.
P.S. Be sure to check out the super fun video for "True Thrush"