Dan Deacon: Spiderman of the Rings

Dan Deacon manages to lure in his audience with his strange, raucous brand of electro-pop and induce them to sway, leap, and even shout along with him.

Dan Deacon

Spiderman of the Rings

Label: Carpark
US Release Date: 2007-05-08
UK Release Date: 2007-05-07

Dan Deacon doesn't exactly look the part of Rock Messiah. Poised behind a tangle of cables and electronic components -- a motley assortment of vocoders, synthezisers, noise generators, effects pedals -- Deacon is a bit paunchy, balding, clad in t-shirt adorned with an enormous cartoon character, and busy taping his over-sized glasses onto his head as a precaution against their inadvertent loss. His credentials, at odds with both that appearance and his present role, include classical training and an electroaccoustic masters degree from SUNY Purchase. His music itself, a seething mass of beeps, pops, and heavily processed tirades against bees that won't leave him alone, does not, at face value, suggest itself for mass appeal. And yet, this is the Man Who Convinced the Rock Kids to Dance.

How hard is that really? If you have to ask, you likely haven't been attending a lot of shows lately. Things are so far gone that even the Rapture, early purveyors of the rock dalliance that came to be known as dance punk, can be heard throwing up their arms in apparent exasperation on their latest effort ("people don't dance no more / they just stand there like this"), summoning familiar visions of rank upon rank of arm-crossed, foot-planted concert-goers. And really, if the Rapture can't get their audiences moving, what possible hope can there be for the rest of us? Miraculously, through the last two years of near-constant touring, Dan Deacon has managed to pull off the feat again and again, luring in his audiences (many of whom came out to see actual rock outfits like the Black Lips) with his strange, raucous brand of electro-pop and inducing them to sway, leap, and even shout along with him.

Live, Deacon's music is an insatiable tidal wave of clipping keyboard loops and crazed-carnival-barker-on-digital-helium vocal hooks; in the studio both the subtleties and the mechanisms for its jittery energy come into greater focus. What were once tonal washes of chords break up into Philip Glass-like arpeggio sequences and droning flutters of guitar, overlayed with squealing organ and squirming bass. The simple, insistent drum loops resolve and the garbled voices approach intelligibility. The undercurrent of noise imbuing his tracks with their raging urgency separates into an experimental noise spectrum of slurps and bleeps. What comes over especially is Deacon's skill in gradually building layer upon layer into his chord progressions until they seem to surge forward under their own volition. But in the end, all the contributions of classical mechanisms and wobbling feedback riffs give way to effectively catchy and hummable, albeit very odd, pop songs.

"Trippy Green Skull", which seems to suggest itself as a single, opens with the album's most piercing analog beep loop and low chanting, only to lurch into gear with a shrieking punk riff of a treble synth and crunchy breakbeats. Later, the track crystallizes around more consistent drums and synth hook with Deacon's highly processed voice into an elemental dance party. "Snake Mistakes" backs its refrain, throwaway yet instantly catchy, with a sinuous bassline that seems to emulate fretless finger-work with sliding pitch-bending and tucks in a vocoded bridge section that would do Wendy Carlos' soundtrack for a Clockwork Orange proud. On the other hand, perhaps ill-chosen opener "Woody Woodpecker" strains nerves with several repitched loops of the titular cartoon character's laughter (though simultaneously impressing as it manages to use them as melodic basis for a piece) and the one quieter piece, which presumably falls closer to Deacon's background, lacks the compelling momentum and energy of the electro-pop songs. Fortunately, the gap is bridged easily by the blazing insistence of the instrumental "Pink Batman" and by the 12-minute, minimal-xylophone-to-electric-shimmer-to-new-wave-sing-along-to-squelch-solo ascent of "Wham City" an apparent tribute to Deacon's home at the eponymous Baltimore art collective. These songs may seem a little less epoch-making outside the religious fervor of one of Deacon's warehouse shows, but still stand alone as unique pop experiments that manage to challenge without being challenging.

And so, somehow, the rock kids come out to dance, on a scale that I've only seen recently reproduced in that most instantly appreciable of pop experiments, the Girl Talk set. Like Girl Talk's Greg Gillis, an otherwise unassuming biomedical engineer from Pittsburgh, Dan Deacon would never be picked out of a police line-up as pop star material. But complain as they might, the afore-mentioned Rapture seems to be missing the point: those same notoriously poised and unimpressed Brooklyn audiences who apparently spurn their beats (and Baltimore audiences, and anywhere audiences), are willing to drop all pretense for a Deacon set, pumping arms, yelling absurd phrases about "cool dads" and "shark swords", and generally having a great time. And that's ultimately the point: Spiderman of the Rings and Deacon himself are able to provide something no amount of refined style can cover for: pure, raw fun.




Reading Pandemics

Pandemic, Hope, Defiance, and Protest in 'Romeo and Juliet'

Shakespeare's well known romantic tale Romeo and Juliet, written during a pandemic, has a surprisingly hopeful message about defiance and protest.


A Family Visit Turns to Guerrilla Warfare in 'The Truth'

Catherine Deneuve plays an imperious but fading actress who can't stop being cruel to the people around her in Hirokazu Koreeda's secrets- and betrayal-packed melodrama, The Truth.


The Top 20 Punk Protest Songs for July 4th

As punk music history verifies, American citizenry are not all shiny, happy people. These 20 songs reflect the other side of patriotism -- free speech brandished by the brave and uncouth.


90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.


Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

'The Avengers: Endgame' Faces the Other Side of Loss

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our pandemic grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.


Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.


Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.


First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?


HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.


Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.