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Home and Hearth

With the sprawling "America," Dan Deacon uses well-tested methods to break new ground.


Straight outta Baltimore: Electronic musician Dan Deacon is known for his participatory live shows. - JOSH SISK
  • Josh Sisk
  • Straight outta Baltimore: Electronic musician Dan Deacon is known for his participatory live shows.

Sometime in the late 1990s, Dan Deacon traded video games for a pastime that shaped his life to come. After his father's friend built a computer for Deacon's household, the teenaged Dan discovered a crude musical interface on the machine.

He'd played tuba and trombone at school but had never written music himself. But using the software known as MIDI, short for musical instrument digital interface — plus a rudimentary version of Sound Recorder, a Windows staple for eons — he assembled audio collages, signaling the arrival of both a new hobby and his time as a prolific music creator.

"I got obsessed with density of sound and trying to layer as many sounds as possible," Deacon says, "and I feel that sort of stuck with me — [an idea] like filling as much sound in the space as possible."

That notion still plays a vital role for the 31-year-old experimental and electronic musician, as shown by "America," his recently released third full-length. The record contains two experiences in one — five vibrant, sparkly electro-pop tunes marking the first half of the record, and a sweeping, orchestra-heavy, four-part suite titled "USA" filling the second and absolutely overflowing with detail.

Deacon continues to construct his compositions' skeletons on computers — he thankfully moved up from bundled software to the likes of Ableton and Reason long ago — but now fleshes out pieces with ample live instrumentation. Some 30 players contributed to "America."

Considering Deacon's history as an outré musician with leftist values, it's surprising that "America" is filled with as much awe and optimism for its country as it is. The album focuses on the country's landscapes instead of socio-political issues. It's so charming with its reverence that it's difficult to not feel some patriotic energy. ("Guilford Avenue Bridge" and "Prettyboy" are named after beloved spots in Deacon's hometown of Baltimore, and "The Great American Desert" comes from a now-outdated term for plains in the middle of the United States.)

"The music is definitely influenced by the geography and the aspects of the country that I find beautiful," Deacon says. "The lyrics are me trying to introspectively figure out my role in this system that I have a lot of difficulties with."

On another level, "America" represents Deacon at his most mature. When his debut record, "Spiderman of the Rings," hit in 2007, both his music and persona were so proudly impish and occasionally chaotic that it was tough to tell how seriously you should take them. But as time has passed and his profile has grown, Deacon has calmed for the better. He even contemplates setting aside his heavily layered template to explore silence more.

"It's a big jump between 20 and 25, and 25 to 30, and onward and onward," he says. "I've had a lot of experience in those five years, too, that I didn't have prior to that. I'd never seen the world. It blew my mind. I always thought I'd just be some impoverished weirdo eating out of the garbage, then all of a sudden that changed."

"It definitely had an impact on my life and my psyche and my personality," he continues. "I'm very grateful for it." S

Dan Deacon will perform with Heights With Friends, Chester Endersby Gwazda and Alan Resnick on Thursday, Nov. 29, at 7 p.m., at Gallery5, 200 W. Marshall St. $13.


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