Dan Deacon - Mystic Familiar

Dan Deacon - Mystic Familiar

Friday, 31 January 2020 (All day)

Mystic Familiar is the fifth solo studio record of composer and electronic musician Dan Deacon. It is arguably his most emotionally open record to date, and he claims that it is his most transcendent; it is the result of obsessive work, play, and self-discovery. The album’s11 kaleidoscopic tracks of majestic synth-pop expand his sound with unfettered imagination and newfound vulnerability.


Dan Deacon - Sat By A Tree (Official Video)


James Camien Mc...

Why I gave the above rating: 

Dan Deacon almost only ever works in triadic harmony, almost always writes in simple metres such as 4/4, and has lyrics such as "Feel free / First you must relax before transcend / Dig deep / The water deep down is safe enought to drink." But yet he's not much like Polyphonic Spree; in fact, the artist I always think to compare him to is Hermann Nitsch. Nitsch, too, paints in massive densely saturated canvasses; for Nitsch, too, the art we see from a distance is only half the story, with peformative, even ritualistic elements being just as key. In Nitsch's case, the rituals involved the slaughter of animals and suchlike; Deacon's infamous live shows are not as intense as this, but they do involve a lot of audience participation: dancing to instruction, staring into your neighbour's eyes, that sort of thing.

I haven't seen Deacon live, despite several attempts, but I imagine, judging from the records, that to attend it in the right spirit must require a profound self-abandonment. The music itself seems to demand this: it seems to occupy at all times the full frequency range, and it's comprised of loops of various lengths - chipmunked vocal samples, simple driving drum rhythms, a barrage of repeated notes and arpeggios, and barely making itself heard through the din, mantra-like lyrics.

Perhaps it's not obvious from all this that I love a lot of Deacon's music. Or I should say, not that I love him, but that I've found myself able to let myself go and let him commandeer me for a little while. I can well see why some people react violently against it.

Whatever you call all this, it meant I was looking forward to 'Mystic Familiar,' and the new record is definitely still this Dan Deacon. It opens up with a player piano (or several?) mechanically playing chords and arpeggios and scales over the whole range of the keyboard; Deacon's voice joins, and then a choir, and then a glorious orchestra of synths. It's overwhelming, and in the midst, Deacon instructs us: "Close your eyes / And become a mountain." If the listener has been disarmed by the onslaught, it's quite an experience.

Though Deacon skirts feel-good claptrap about becoming mountains, he is never dishonest. For instance, the opening of the four-part 'Arp' has the decidedly ambivalent lyrics "There's a darkness in this place... You make me forget / What this world truly is." This ambivalence is actually key to his music as a whole; the overwhelming major tonality hardly provides a Mozartian lightness: it's rather a hard sun. And so at the end of the record, I didn't feel delivered, but just exhausted and oversensitive.

In fact, I feel worse after listening to this album than I do after, say, his earlier 'Bromst.' I initially thought that this was because it was less refined. But it could be just because the world is bleaker now than it was in 2009, and Deacon's attempt to make us dance without care is necessarily more desperate - and he wrote this desperation into the music.

Mar 8, 2020

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