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‘Gliss Riffer’: Dan Deacon’s still got it – mostly

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The name of Baltimore musician Dan Deacon’s latest album, “Gliss Riffer,” might sound like a word a baby would say. It actually derives from the Italian musical term “glissando,” meaning to slide, and “riff.” Much like the music Deacon  creates, his latest album is a playful take on classical influences.

When he’s not driving around the country in a vegetable-powered van or choreographing audiences into human spirals, Deacon is in the studio blurring the lines between fun and art. In an interview with Consequence of Sound, he stated “To anyone making true avant-garde or experimental music, I make pop music. To anyone making pop music, I make nonsense.”

“Gliss Riffer,” might be just that, a healthy blend of pop and nonsense. Gone are the bugged-out chipmunk choruses found in his album “Bromst,” and the grand orchestra pits found in his last album “America” were sent home. Instead, listeners get a very accessible and approachable album from Deacon, whose previous work can only be described as watching a cartoon during a seizure.

“Feel the Lightning”

This lead track was first released as a music video that details the lives of sentient furniture when its owners leave the house. The trademark happy-go-lucky attitude is present, yet muted and controlled by a hand drum loop and a slow-pop bass and snare line. As a master of virtual voice manipulation, Deacon passes as a soothing female vocalist. He sings in perfect Deerhoof style “Can you feel the lightning covering your skin? / It’s a nightmare / cause you’re on fire.” He then chimes in with his signature megaphoned warbles. He has a duet with himself, and it’s fantastic.

“Mind on Fire”

This song evokes themes from his album “Bromst.” There are spectacular robot guitars that soar to his ascending voice. He shouts exuberantly, as if he’s clearing his conscience in front of the robo-band at Chuck E. Cheese’s.“I feel like an island / all boiled down / until I get home.” His lyrics are honest and confessional, he even cries for help, but his feelings are drowned through a jamboree of eclectic electronics and drums.

“Take it to the Max”

“Gliss Riffer” takes a tantric turn in this song. Layers of finger-tapped percussion slowly build until joined by cymbal and snare, looping over and over from stereo left to right. Frantic piano scales pile on top, blending each individual loop into a mesh of calculated and inquisitive texture. Woodwinds and chip-tuned synths harmonize at the tracks peak reflecting all of the Phillip Glass influence Deacon absorbed. “Take it to the Max” is Deacon’s “Einstein at the Planetarium.”

“Steely Blue”

Dense, yet somehow sparkly deep-trance ambience creates a lush atmosphere on this track. Drawing inspiration from drone-ambient artists like “Oneohtrix Point Never,” Deacon allows unsettling frequencies to meld into borderline spiritual and organic fantasies. Like a passing Cirque de Soleil parade, the song enters just as mysteriously as it leaves. As the hazy wash of psychic sounds depart for another dimension, listeners are left only a single digital bagpipe that fades comfortably into the psyche.

“Gliss Riffer” is fun and colorful, but ultimately it feels like it’s holding back. It wouldn’t be surprising to see these songs pop up on a Pandora playlist for Passion Pit or MGMT.

Instead of pushing boundaries, Deacon  worked backwards, synthesizing his earlier works into easily digestible chunks. He’s capable of making heads turn and scratch at the same time, but this album inspires a nod of acknowledgment.

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