Dan Deacon Gliss Riffer

[Domino; 2015]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: maximalism, party mentality
Others: Woody Woodpecker, Panda Bear, Grim Reaper

On Gliss Riffer, Dan Deacon returns to his King of the Saturnalia mode, presiding over a death-defying 45 minutes of Spiderbromst of America in IMAX 3DD. That portmantitle is reductive, but Gliss Riffer does have a summary and (self-proclaimed) maximal feel to it. The coda to the album’s second video single “Learning to Relax” is a showcase of everything Deacon does best, all at once: glitchy, kitschy, chop-and-screw samplework; stuttering loops; phase-shifting MIDI player piano; repetitive vocoder vocals; sweetly airy synths; and ever-compounding harmonies all layered into bittersweet soundcake. His chant as the music unravels and folds back up: “Just take me out of my mind.”

Out of mind and into body is what Deacon’s participatory dance parties and loonier songwriting tendencies are all about. They’re fun, especially in the communal live setting he fosters. More than five years ago now, I jumped 10 feet in the air at the peak of “Snookered” and felt that high of being taken out of my mind. The scene was a mash of sweating bodies crashing in the dark around his tabletop devices. Flashing in the killed light was the haunted funhouse grimace of his trippy green skull.

The morbid motivation behind it all looms like that skull, never far from the festivities, even if Gliss Riffer doesn’t always reproduce its glow. Deacon and his music are touched by mortality and anxiety — from the post-human lyrics of “Wham City” to his 12/12/12 Doomsday rambles. The early-onset of death and despair makes for much more immediate fodder here than did the audibly laborious and ornate interpretation of “America.” Dan Deacon only lives once, so he’s taking it to the max (again). Reconciling with solo composition and performance, Gliss Riffer finds a pointed, insular spirit in his more centered vocals and lyrics, as well as in his hard-hitting production à la Spiderman of the Rings. He sings with Frankenfurter madness on “Mind On Fire,” until the song loops in on the relativity of stress and time: “Happiness takes time, and time is my life/ And I have no time, and I’m still alive…”

The forward-leaning “Sheathed Wings” is probably the best representation of how well this material will play to his energized, forever-young audiences, compared to its rehash feeling on record. The song builds until bursting with the ringleader command, “Move a little bit closer and a little bit closer.” Its livewire chorus and breakdown matches the apex of Animal Collective rhythmic psych sampling, to maybe predictable ends. The album’s most memorable and affecting songs are its catchiest and least concerned with crescendos.

Opener “Feel The Lightning” is a cool-down jam, its pleasantly pitch-shifted vocals a fresh look for his usually freaky vocoder. While not exactly a new bag of tricks, it is for sure Deacon’s most commercially viable track, a focused 2010s synth pop jam in the vintage of Ke$ha’s “C’mon” and A. G. Cook’s perfectly-composed remix of Charli XCX’s “Doin It.” The song drifts with a new wavy muted melancholy in the vein of Sky Ferreira or fellow Wham Cityfolk Future Islands, which is warped by the song’s gradually ramping Spiderman-style pre-chorus: “The sky was the limit, and then it came crashing down.” The sawing Top 40 bass synths build and drop like that skyfall, eventually resolving to hang in the background instead of making their cued crash landing. Its misdirect restraint is one of Gliss Riffer’s more enjoyable small tweaks to pop structures and Deacon’s own long-gestating sound.

The buoyant sing-song swing of “When I Was Done Dying” is anchored by an evocative allegory for stress and creativity, full of fading visions of horses, mouth traps, and exploding skin. I get chills when he snarls, “How that ladder of mouths waved so soft in the night/ And I looked up in awe at that beautiful sight/And I dreamt about climbing into the night sky.” The dazzling imagistic lyrics combined with Deacon’s singing elevate its ir-irreverent gibberish refrain into anthemic territory, which then detours into the somewhat plodding life aquatic RPG score of “Meme Generator.” Kitchen-sink crescendoer “Take It To The Max” and finale “Steely Blues” are more exciting instrumentals: the closer’s freeform shape reminds me of The Microphones’ “The Sun” if the musicians had marched straight into the Sun and discovered the ending to Akira. The song seems to hold hands with the anxieties buried in Gliss Riffer in a way the rest of the album tries to fidget away from or overcome.

If fear is the mindkiller, then we should learn to relax. Here, relaxation mostly manifests in seizure-warning visuals and hyperkinetic make-believe soundtracks. Deacon tries to overwhelm our desensitization, fighting fire with fire, with uneven success. After my initial excitement at this pleasure-centric album died down, a lot of its extended passages felt overfamilar or too telegraphed. But my first listen did exactly what I think Gliss Riffer sets out to do: it put a huge smile on my face when I was otherwise feeling gnawed at by the unbearable whatever. May its perpetual motion do the same for you and its returns never diminish like everything eventually will. More is more; death is coming. Get out of your mind, and don’t bide your time.

Links: Dan Deacon - Domino

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