hat is this happy music?”
My father, standing on Michigan State’s campus last summer during a banjo workshop, explained the sounds to a largely confused foreign student. Dan Deacon probably won’t ever strike anyone as a musician for the ages, but had he been born a century back in hilly Pennsylvania, it’s difficult to imagine him not ending up with a banjo on a porch, social, smiling, approachable. Instead, Deacon is a fixture on Baltimore’s burgeoning noise/pop scene, and the most visible member of the Wham City collective. After a half-dozen or so albums, he’s finally on the verge of breaking through with the giddy, triumphant mass of sound that is Spiderman of the Rings.
Spiderman opens with “Woody Woodpecker,” a sampled cackle that takes Styluser Mike Powell’s “Cartoon Violence” aesthetic to its literal extreme, one that will make it all too easy for naysaying Neds to slap Deacon with the Wesley Willis tag he will not avoid for the rest of his career (something his frumpy appearance and manic performances will, probably rightfully, encourage). But Deacon has as much, and probably more, in common with informed manipulators (and fellow Carpark-ers) Keith Fullerton Whitman and Greg Davis, even if his primary-color playground anthems sit in direct contrast to their patient academia.
Albums like Spiderman don’t arrive by themselves. Deacon, who has degrees in this shit too, is no idiot savant, rather a hyper-stimulated and merry noise-fiddler; his contemporaries also include party favors—hand clakkers!—and confetti drops. Deacon’s background in noise allows Spiderman to swing and duck athletically, even as it bulges with salty textures and off-colors that belie Deacon’s reputation as a major-key joymonger. He never appears quiet, still, or bored, but there’s no reason “Okie Dokie”’s ragged keyboards can’t suggest discontent or even anger, and damn if the “Crystal Cat”’s chords don’t pine, however optimistically.
The oft-bandied “synth-pop” isn’t a technically accurate term, as Deacon shows no real allegiance to that genre’s dynamics or history. Even his heavily vocodered singing, occasionally an annoyance, has a purpose and character that’s philosophically in line with, say, Animal Collective’s ongoing mission to chatter like children. Deacon’s pop is born of pure sonics, for the masses only because of its wide-eyed, danceable non-ambition.
For a work that so casually rejects pop dynamics, Spiderman is easy to read as an album. The massive, 12-minute “Wham City” is its keystone, a light-headed barrage that moves slickly from tone-craft to splashy, sloppy trance, conveying the heady influences—Krautrock’s sturdiness, disco’s bodymelt, shoegaze’s oversaturation—that you’d expect from someone of Deacon’s pedigree. It’s also not a surprise, then, when the proceeding cut, “Big Milk,” dips its toes into a languid, music-box puddle and comes out soaked in a type of melancholy Deacon seems initially oblivious to. Oblivious wouldn’t apply anyhow, as Deacon is subtly a student, of rhythm, of noise, of obscure and possibly complex electronic music-making doohickies, and one who is likely very aware of the contrasts that exist between himself and any peers he may have in avant-garde or pop music.
Still, Spiderman mostly oscillates between emotions that require exclamation points. On the album’s second half, Deacon dives into giddy pop-culture pastiche, repeating Lisa Frank scribbles: “Why won’t these bees leave me alone?” on “Snake Mistakes,” “I’ve got an rattlesnake gun” on “Okie Dokie,” and, hilariously, a pitch-shifted chorus of Ludacris’s “What’s Your Fantasy” on “Trippy Green Skull.” I would call it an animated assault, but assaults so rarely line up your ticklish spots and discover rhythm all over them like “The Jerk.”
It’s a jig Deacon keeps dancing even as the final two tracks, “Pink Batman” and “Jimmy Joe Roche,” send spirals of sound toward puppy-shaped clouds. Deacon may not be a revolutionary, but his use of noise to inspire delighted motion rather than anger or intrigue or peace has the possibility to be as magnetic and addictive as any of his cell-shaded dustups. Pop by accident, noise by default, joy by waves and waves of oscillating tones, the success of Spiderman depends on sheer enthusiasm, both Deacon’s and yours.