Dan Deacon: Spiderman of the Rings

Calling Baltimore's Dan Deacon eccentric hardly does justice to the word. He thinks nothing of carting two suitcases filled with battered electronic gear from city to city for more than three hundred shows in a little over two years; having arrived at the venue, Deacon readies his pedals, sine wave generator, vocoder, and Casio for another manic show. For those who missed the show, Spiderman of the Rings compiles pounding dance cuts, cartoonish vocal chants, and squealing synth-pop into a hot-wired forty-six minute romp.

The opener, “Wooody Woodpecker,” would probably induce heart failure in Mel Blanc were he still alive. Hilarity immediately ensues with Woody's familiar laugh sped up and slowed down but Deacon slyly hints at his classical training (a Masters degree in electroacoustic composition) by underlaying it with a four-note theme, arpeggios, and flourishes that sound like something Philip Glass might have composed on acid. “Crystal Cat” starts out as a bleeding synth workout but then morphs into a surf-rock blazer over which sails Deacon's alternately manic and distortedly squealing vocal.

But lest anyone prematurely dismiss Spiderman of the Rings as nothing more than Looney tunes, Deacon drops a twelve-minute epic into the album's middle. “Wham City” (a Baltimore loft space and arts collective of which Deacon is a member) is as serious a piece as Deacon's probably interested in creating, though its caffeinated mix of barking vocal choirs, pulsating synthesizer patterns, and raucous rhythms is simultaneously serious and jubilant. Plus he follows it with a disarmingly pretty lullaby of vibraphone sparkle and sleepy organ tones that'd make Lullatone envious (“Big Milk”) and, later, a similarly-polished and exuberant instrumental (“Pink Batman”) that shows he's capable of crafting sophisticated, classical-influenced material when the mood strikes. Generally speaking, though, Deacon never lets things get too ponderous and dedicates most of the album to sputtering electronics, exploding Casios, and barking choruses.

July 2007