Dan Deacon – Bromst (2009)

bromst“Sounds like a dying cat rolled through a meat grinder”, one review said. Dan Deacon certainly creates the sort of music that can be described this way, and if you’re not the least bit intrigued by that, chances are this simply isn’t for you. Spiderman of the Rings had a relentless giddiness that wore on some people, but by and large I think it was seen in a positive light. If you didn’t hate it outright, chances are you either loved it or it was going to get you eventually.  Alas, it was not exactly a mainstay on the 2007 end-of-year charts. This was the year of In Rainbows, Neon Bible and Sound of Silver, and here you had an album that begins with a symphonic interpretation of Woody Woodpecker’s laugh. So it was doomed for the “honorable mention” column with a write-up like, “hoo boy, the manchild talking lizard, Wham City, whoa!” (and yet, they took Cross by Justice seriously, cuz y’know, Daft PUNK!) It was almost certainly one of the most fun, inventive, and unique albums that year, but what kind of critic was going to put that above freakin’ Radiohead? (Maybe someone who sees Mouth Silence and Turquoise Jeep as album of the year material?)

Spiderman had a lot of moments that were complex and melodically brilliant, if you were looking for them; as many reviews pointed out “you almost forget he’s got a master’s degree in composition”. And in a way, I think that was sort of the point, as Deacon clearly wanted to give the album a party atmosphere, which means it’s the kind of music you shouldn’t have to think too hard about. Bromst is every bit as intense and densely layered as Spiderman was, but this time he’s going big the hard way. He hired an ensemble for this one, which in Dan Deacon terms basically means a bunch of drummers and players of other percussive instruments, mostly things hit with mallets. I mean, there are xylophones galore on this one, maybe more than on any other album I can think of. That plus a few horns really make up the whole thing (there’s a guy credited with guitar, though I sure as hell don’t hear it), but there’s also Deacon himself, who let’s just say does not tone anything down. Not only is he layering his voice all over this thing (with varying levels of distortion), but his electronic pallete remains basically the same; that is, big, blocky synth waves and long, sustained high notes, often all at the same time. “Red F” begins with the loud noise of a Windows ’95 sound card crashing and…runs with it the entire song.

That’s the important thing about Bromst; fans of his prior work may have had some reservations here, that Deacon was maturing and getting a little less interesting, as so many in his shoes have done in the past. It’s never fun to see a goofball suddenly get serious, though in Deacon’s case you get the impression that he’s been serious about this all along. His music has always been about stretching the bounds of the human brain – not in the psych-era “expand your mind” sense, but rather by testing how much aural stimuli it can handle at once. That’s the main dig against this album – it’s incredibly noisy and elaborate. Overkill is Deacon’s default setting, and as a result you feel every one of the album’s 64 minutes. Even the interlude “Wet Wings”, which loops a vocal sample on top of itself into oblivion, quickly becomes overbearing (later on, he’d do “Call Me Maybe 147 Times Exponentially Layered”, which is…..wow).  That’s the consequence of having no real jokey stuff – the closest we get is “Woof Woof”, this album’s “Snake Mistakes”, with a wickedly funky bass riff, cartoon sound effects, and a dog barking throughout the entire song (and of course, it’s one of the best tracks on the album).

I’m sure Deacon himself realized this, which may be why it seems he’s actively looked for ways to tone it down.  I remember reading a comment Brian Eno made about Before and After Science, about how the album was about finding ways to progress in a song by removing things – at the time I don’t really know what that meant, but I think I get it now.  In many pop songs there’s a “money shot” where everything drops out but the drums and the vocals, sort of the “clap and sing along” bit that always feels so damn powerful, even in songs I dislike.  Deacon leaves plenty of those moments on this album; the chopped vocals on “Snookered”, the crazy, pounding drum solo on “Of the Mountains”, the gorgeous impossible piano bits that end “Run For Your Life”, or the surprisingly stripped Neu!-like rhythm on “Surprise Stefani”.  These are the most bare moments on the album, and they’re some of my favorites, just because of how well earned they are.  And that’s really a neat thing; while most artists build to a climax where everything comes together (especially in electronic music), Deacon instead hits the noisy parts early and allows the catharsis to come by scaling it all back.  That’s important because it gives some sort of insight into just how complex all these interlocking bits and pieces are.  There’s another cliché that Bromst turns on it’s head – it is one of those “enough ideas for an entire career” albums, but rather than using the Cardiacs or Mr. Bungle method of switching things up every twenty seconds, it just plays a bunch of them on top of each other.

The effect of all this is that it’s difficult to know where to focus your attention.  That’s something I really loved about this disc from day one, since it’s rare to find an album so impossible to assimilate after the first few plays.  I still don’t know what my favorite tracks are on this anymore, as outside of “Wet Wings” I’ve been obsessed with all of them at one point.  Just like with “Wham City” on the last disc, the music here is so balls-out it’s tough to imagine Deacon topping it (and again, I think he does, even if he’s probably never going to make an album noisier than this one).  At the time of its release I remember this getting compared to Merriweather Post Pavilion a lot, and even though I think it’s difficult to compare Deacon’s music to anyone, Animal Collective at least operates in the same kind of space.  Still, MPP was pretty much a universal album of the year pick, while Bromst again mostly got relegated to “honorable mention” again.  I guess Animal Collective do have some kind of undeniable, ethereal mystique to them, while Deacon is perhaps most famous as the voice of a cartoon lizard and puts out songs with titles like “I’m So Gay With the Boner”.  But he’s a natural-born composer, capable of recording and arranging music so layered we can barely even process it, plus he’s got a sense of humor, so where’s the downside?  This is the most incredible, intricate, and enjoyable music to ever deserve the description of “cat in a meat grinder”.

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One thought on “Dan Deacon – Bromst (2009)

  1. Pingback: 2015 Year in Review | Critter Jams

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