One doesn’t just forget a man as wild as Dan Deacon. Known for performing in crowds rather than onstage, and managing to get a tour bus running off of garbage rather than gasoline, his quirky, experimental lifestyle align’s with the music he makes. So, it should be no surprise to long time Deacon fans that after dipping his toes in the realm of composing classical music, his return to electric pop is just as weird and uniquely Deacon as previous albums. Deacon has delved back into his electronic roots for his 16th studio album, Gliss Riffer. Though noticeably more vocally present, he retains his fuzzy, cluttered beats, and pairs them with personal lyrics of reflection and revelation.
Deacon has melded an unusual mix of musical genres throughout the course of his 12-year career. In the span of 2014, he had his Carnegie Hall debut, toured with Arcade Fire, and found the time to write and record Gliss Riffer. Spending the last 4 years dedicated to classical music (both composing and performing) has shaped and inspired his latest creation. And creation it is, for the vocals heard on the album—even the hyper-feminine bits—are solely Deacon’s.
Deacon records music at a slower tempo, yet sings normally, when he is unable to hit a certain harmony—the same technique used by the Beatles. Once both parts are recorded, he speeds the music up to create the girly vocals heard on Gliss Riffer. Those familiar with Deacon’s previous work are well-acquainted with his usual vocal absence, but an oral injury suffered during the end of his America tour inspired the vocal-heavy album. His sudden willingness to include more vocals—one he credits to a recent revelation that he won’t be able to sing forever—and unique manner in creating them, is a reflection of his dedication to his craft.
Though as glitch-y and distorted as Deacon ever is, Gliss Riffer is more subdued in tone.
Elements of electric pop are present, but even with multi-instrument layering the tracks never overwhelm. The final song of the album, “Steely Blues,” opens with a low, reverberating sound, like radio frequency that gradually transitions to a higher pitch creating an ominous, space-like tone. The higher frequency then transitions back to the lower pitch, flipping throughout the track’s entirety. When a dual-tone blipping is introduced, “Steely Blues” sounds like something from 2001: A Space Odyssey. The blipping intensifies, and the humming fades in and out before the song dissolves and leaves listeners in total silence for the track’s final minute.
Gliss Riffer’s first single, “Feel the Lightning,” uses high-pitched pings and bings layered over trilling notes and a variety of vocal effects to create a lively, upbeat song with a twinge of space tonality. The hazy quality of the track is married well to Deacon’s vocal style. Despite an occasional lack of lyrical clarity, “Feel the Lightning” is a vibrant and uplifting start to an album teeming with personal influences.
This is why the lyrics resonate so deeply. “When I Was Done Dying,” the track Deacon says best represents him lyrically, reflects a never ending inner-turmoil. Deacon sings/chants over the only acoustic guitar heard on Gliss Riffer, “And I said all my prayers/Because surely I died/As I crashed down and smashed into earth into dirt/How my skin didn’t explode/Leaving only my shirt.” When a distorted ringing begins to move in and out of focus, Deacon passionately continues, “And I wandered around/With my roots and my leaves/And I tore up the shirt/And I ate up the sleeves.” The strife is almost tangible in the minimally edited vocals.
Though Deacon is capable of producing music with more complex layering, his willingness to get vulnerable lyrically is what truly elevates Gliss Riffer above his previous releases.
Gliss Riffer has the flair and creativity Deacon fans will immediately recognize as his. Though his lyrics are overwhelmed at times, his willingness to pare back and bare all with vocals serves the album well. It feels and sounds personal, and the experiences Deacon has encountered as a musician help generate a well-produced album that will resonate with fans.
Dan Deacon – Gliss Riffer tracklist:
- “Feel the Lightning”
- “Sheathed Wings”
- “When I Was Done Dying”
- “Meme Generator”
- “Mind On Fire”
- “Learning to Relax”
- “Take It to the Max”
- “Steely Blues”