Dan Deacon is up to old tricks on his new album and that will be just fine with his devoted followers, who love a synth jam and ultimately just want an excuse to see him live. "Gliss Riffer" – the name is a reference to the artist’s enjoyment of tightly packed ascending notes – is pop-synth pound cake, dense with beats and squeaks and layered vocal tracks that sound like they were set down by a post-shrink ray Jeff Tweedy. Deacon’s priorities (making fun music and having fun making music) remain largely the same as they’ve been since he arrived on the scene in Baltimore and redefined it. He still makes songs that are perfect for dancing to in a very small space.
And if that doesn’t make sense or appeal to you, you won’t like Dan Deacon.
But what makes Deacon’s new work interesting is his lyrics, which he seems to have designed for the Rap Genius age (ed. note: We know it’s Genius know, but we’re sticking with the OG name). For a non-rapper, he packs in a lot of references in a small space, basically imploring his fans to give him a Google. And doing just that actually expands his music, making sprawling statements out of incomprehensible shorthand. He doesn’t pretend that music remains a visceral experience. His songs are supposed to be taken apart. One gets the sense that he’d actually sing URLs if he could.
The best example of this phenomenon arrives in the bridge of the first track, “Feel the Lightning”: “The first time they heard the song from Tom Petty/The one where Johnny Depp plays the rebel named Eddie/The sky was the limit and then it came crashing down.” The reference here is “Into the Great Wide Open,” Petty’s 1991 hit that was made into a music video starring Johnny Depp, that woman from Burn Notice, Faye Dunaway, and, rather oddly, pre-Friends Matt LeBlanc. Like the song, that old video seems strangely apocalyptic, a bunch of soon-to-be superstars wearing ugly clothes and looking happy to just be on screen. It’s a great lyric, but only if you know what the hell Deacon is talking about.
He’s hardly the first lyricist to drop in obscurities, but Deacon may be the least invested in clearing things up for his listeners. That’s just fine. The whole joy of Dan Deacon is plugging into another man’s weirdness. If you’re not willing to meet him where he lives (again, Baltimore) than this album isn’t for you. And that’s fine. He seems happy to keep doing his own thing and content to have you do yours. Deacon’s consistent in his interests, which is a great way to please fans, a horrible strategy to attract new ones, and, it would seem, a nice way to go through life.