Dan Deacon - Gliss Riffer

by Justin Pearson Rating:9 Release Date:2015-02-23

When we grow up we leave our playthings behind. That's the common wisdom, right? Dan Deacon thinks differently, especially on Gliss Riffer, which can be seen as a sort of toy box for adults. Go ahead, lift the lid.

Inside is a euphoric journey of magic carpets, merry-go-rounds, cotton candy, and bubblegum that's emotional (and fun) in all the right places. Layered with electronic bleeps, blips, and manipulated vocals, it's as sweet as birthday cake or a fun-sized candy bar without the fluff. These are delighfully skewed, yet serious pop songs to sink your teeth into, and there are no half-assed attempts here. Gliss Riffer is full-on energy imbued with a nostalgic happiness minus the ache and longing, reminding one of days spent jumping on the bed as a kid.

Underneath the explosion of joy that comprises the album, there's an introspection that makes for a slightly deceptive listen, but you don't feel its weight until you've caught your breath after the first two or three go-arounds. Life and its anxieties creep up in the lyrics, and we get a taste of Deacon more front-and-centered vocally (and emotionally) as compared to previous efforts. Take 'Mind on Fire', where we find him openly searching: "I need your help but I don't know what I require/ Happiness takes time/ I have no time." Nevermind the occasional robotic, Daft Punk-like vocal - there's a real yearning in his voice as his singing borders on yelling, setting free his frustration on us because he knows we can handle it, and gladly at that.

'Feel the Lightning' sounds like a duet with a female vocalist - but no, that's Deacon himself, albeit a severely modulated version. It approaches an exciting pop territory ripe with promise, the way 'Video Killed the Radio Star' heralded a new era of videos on MTV. "Infinite visions of something new/ You feel it changing, slowly but changing/ about to break through," echoes perfectly the direction in which Deacon is moving with this album: back to the basics of song 'writing', coupled with a push forward to a clear, jubilant space where the melodies are allowed to percolate like liquid joy.

Patience is also an element on Gliss Riffer, and it works as an essential ingredient to form a base that allows anticipation to brew, not too unlike the trademark real-time melody formation that Animal Collective are so good at. 'When I Was Done Dying' takes its time dipping into a swirling groove with just its toes before settling full-bodied into a tribal chorus of "Hey, ya, ya/ Hey, hey, hey, hey, ya, ya".

This anticipation is more noticeably heightened on instrumental 'Take It to the Max.' It's a deliberate study in building and layering as it works to a climax - the climax being not one specific moment, but rather the entire sum of its parts. It's an eargasm by itself, but this adjective can also be ascribed to the album as a whole.

Another standout track is 'Meme Generator'. A slow-cooker of sonic dissonance, it simmers and bubbles with vocal snippets that flash before your eyes the way cherries do on a slot machine. The wobbly, forlorn melody in the background makes an appearance at just the right time to temper the chaos cooking and splattering all sides of the pot. Its texture is perfected by the time it's finished.

'Learning to Relax' calls to mind the 1987 hit 'Pop Goes the World' by Men Without Hats (I know, I'm dating myself). Both songs share an anthemic, pop-hit exuberance and could easily be distant cousins. In Deacon's world, the happiness oozes out like a hot lava lamp at warp speed, and you might find yourself dancing either in your bedroom or car along with the lyrics about getting away from it all: "I wanna take a ride/ I like it when you drive me/ I've got nowhere to go or show you/ Just take me out of my mind." If you take away the meaning, the song's structure is anything but relaxing as it caves in around you with an earthquake of excitement.

Gliss Riffer, as the title implies, finds Deacon 'riffing' from one note to another like any good glissando in the truest sense of this musical term. But Deacon doesn't limit himself strictly to this vertical trajectory of pitch. He lovingly occupies a more intimate middle-ground and artfully crafts a well-rounded assault on the senses with playfulness, keeping it just out of tangibility's path.

Why try reaching for it with selfish hands? Instead, let's all use our hearts to absorb the rush of glee that spills forth. After all, an unfettered happiness this infectious should be available for everyone to get addicted to.

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