The Quest | The Free Press of Reed College

The Sound Attendance: Dan Deacon and WHY?

Dan Deacon: America Domino Record Co. [HYPER NOISE]

For fans of: Caribou, the Books, Crystal Castles.

On his previous successful albums, Dan Deacon urged listeners to engage in action of the fanatical, flailing, human firework variety. At performances (RF 2010 anyone?) Deacon would install himself as ruler of the dance-floor regime, shouting out moves like the crowd was playing a giant game of Simon Says.

On his new album, America, Deacon, of Baltimore, uses his eccentric noise to goad his listeners into action outside of the dance hall. This is music that was conceived on the sidewalks of Occupy Wall Street as Deacon staked out at the protest with artists including Immortal Technique and Das Racist, and organized interpretive dances of a riotous valence. Though the Occupy movement is not mentioned explicitly in America, Deacon describes the album’s title as an act to encourage a sense of ownership to those who usually find it hard to identify with the nation, “America is a word with an infinite range of connotations, both positive and negative. Even its literal definition is open to discussion…To me, the underground DIY and wilderness are just as American as their evil brethren, corporatism and environmental destruction. It‘s that juxtaposition of fundamentally opposed ideologies that makes up the American landscape.”

In his lyrics (when you can understand them) and his in composition, it’s clear that he is tackling bigger subjects than ever before. Several features of the album do extend from his previous predilections, including the use of extensive intro build-ups leading to electric storms. Notably, “USA I: America is a Monster” has an intro that lilts in a classical, full string section until it is jolted to life by an electric pulse like some creature Mary Shelley dreamed up. Deacon promises an aching earful, as always.

Concert Review: Saturday at the Wonder Ballroom

WHY?: Sod in the Seed (forthcoming) Tour: Anticon [SNARKY, BAY RAP]

For fans of: Magnetic Fields, Apathy.

Yoni Wolf and his crew had no problem getting the crowd to sing the words to most of their songs at the packed, grinding, Wonder Ballroom on Saturday night. Wolf’s stage presence was impressive as he tangled himself in his microphone chord and danced with as much pizzazz as a Broadway star while rhyming ridiculous words, like “daisy” and “flailing” in abundance. WHY?’s recent, less garage-y style manages to balance the concise, whistled, harmonies and keyboard-driven arrangements of 4 of its band mates with Wolf’s ruckus, half-rap verses filled with imagery of American food-courts and stunts resulting in nose-bleeds. Undoubtedly, it’s Yoni’s dirty words but refined delivery that provides WHY? with its meat and potatoes, both on the album and as a live act, and it’s working for them.

The band website explains its paradigm, which speaks to its songwriting focus, “It’s the attempt to understand what’s really going on by observing, neither by telescope nor microscope, but by naked eye, the intimate details in the most mundane of life’s happenings.” A Zen-like message, but Yoni speaks of being a participatory observer in consumer culture rather than a passive one. Part of the thrill of listening to and seeing WHY? live for me is feeling that I am consuming something that makes me feel guilty but smug. And WHY? supports that, as they carefully ash their songs as they come out, as if each one was being anxiously but stylishly smoked. The new songs they premiered from Sod in the Seed, were upbeat and packed with all the stops WHY? typically pulls out, plus maybe a bit more full-voiced singing from Yoni. Look forward to it.

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