Dan Deacon excels at direction, both artistic and verbal. A cult leader with benign intentions, Deacon leads listeners along using his shimmering music and a demeanor that radiates positivity. At a live show, he’ll direct an audience through a human-hand archway from which they exit to then “build a wall of love”. The seamless participation of these concerts is key to grasping Deacon’s work. Cheesy, youthful, and unpretentious in its execution, his music invites you to join him in life lessons as much as fun.
Mystic Familiar, Deacon’s newest record, fits right in with the composer’s catalog of shimmering, welcoming electropop. The product of meditation and Brian Eno’s creative-inspired card set, the album follows the titular character, an inner voice that resides in everyone. The lack of distinct beats allows the mind to slip into the album’s endless chords, which are held as fermatas as long as Deacon needs them to be.
From the beginning of “Become a Mountain”, Mystic Familiar draws the listener in using two classic musical tropes that are quite foreign for Deacon: his natural voice (a bit Boy Least Likely To by way of Future Islands) and a piano. Using the instrument as a metronome, he constructs this mountain by layering the track with additional piano melodies and vocal effects. The slow crescendo of the whole note that comprises the entirety “Hypnagogic” conjures the view from the peak. As it drones into “Sat By a Tree”, a discernible beat finally arrives, which gallops forward like a Mura Masa song.
Few hooks, and none on par with “True Thrush”, happen on Mystic Familiar; mostly, repetition is reserved for holding notes. In the moments it appears, Deacon’s voice serves as little more than ASMR, just there to remind you that you’re not alone. The focus on the long notes inspires the calmness needed for self-introspection, not necessarily for extraneous activities like forming human bridges. Rhythms, too, are milked for all their power, as “Arp I” barrels straight into “Arp II” atop the same, rapid drums.
As effective as it is at its goal, the monotone, repetitive qualities of Mystic Familiar can grow tiresome after a while; they also lend themselves to deja vu. After playing “Become a Mountain”, listen to “Pink Batman”. While instrumentally, they differ, structurally, they play out quite similarly in the way the sounds are layered and how they build to similar climaxes.
Not all the climaxes on Mystic Familiar lead to joy. “Arp II” ends as “Arp III” begins, in agony as a saxophonist wheezes the melody outward. The interruption in the previous two songs’ momentum provides the first instance of turmoil in Deacon’s metaphysical journey, which grows more dire in the digital fizzle of “Arp IV” and the tragic strings of “Weeping Birch”. It is here that listeners, now more agitated than at ease, seek out the artist’s direction.
Deacon rejoins and probably could have finished, Mystic Familiar on “Fell Into the Ocean”. He now seeks to open the listener’s mind towards the lessons he’s relayed, even those of finality and mortality, as heard in the two preceding tracks. “First you must relax before transcend”, the final line of a rare and somewhat clunky hook, comes across as annoying in an earnest way. Dan Deacon cares about your well-being the way your grandmother worries over you being well-fed: a smothering softened by sincerest of intentions.