Dan Deacon’s Gliss Riffer opens with a gentle rhythm—a delicate, swaying synth effect washing over tabla-esque hand drums—which lasts four measures before being flattened by a churning, half-time industrial beat. This kind of adversarial back and forth continues throughout the album, the basis of a bricklaying approach in which harsh sounds are piled atop soft ones in stratified layers, each track accumulating elements as it progresses. Deacon isn’t one for variation, at least not in terms of song structure. Making subtle refinements to his sound here, he retains the same general sense of snowballing momentum, building aural roller coasters that loop through loud/soft dynamic patterns, moving inexorably toward an inevitable climax.
So while every Deacon album sounds more ambitiously devised and polished than the last, each works off the same sort of junky rec-room orchestration, with low- and high-culture elements all reduced to mere building blocks, used to construct shaky towers of tunefully assembled noise. Achieving gradual escalations of scale through relentless layering and repetition, he’s become increasingly skilled at conveying grandness without as much effort, with avant-garde compositional techniques, lockstep chiptune loops, piecemeal pop hooks, and organic sound shards all absorbed in the growing maelstrom. The joining of all these parts feels more coherent than ever on Gliss Riffer, which continues bending and twisting individual pieces until they lose any residual meaning, interested more in their collective effect than individual importance.
Deacon’s albums work off the same junky rec-room orchestration, with low- and high-culture elements all reduced to mere building blocks.
This operates off an understanding of influence as an essential component in all modern music, and the continuous absorption Deacon carries out, treating every fragment of sound he employs as a found object, makes for a transparent version of that process. He may seem like a goofball laptop experimenter, tossing things together at random, but his apparent haphazard mishmash of heavily processed raw material with Reich-inspired phase shifts and Glass-riffing cyclical buildups belies the sophisticated effect of this combination. The best example here is “When I Was Done Dying,” with its herky-jerky assemblage of faux-Native chants, mystic-journey nonsense narrative, penetrating squeaks, and buzzsaw-synth washes, an overflow of dumb ingredients that cohere into something both ridiculous and emotionally potent. “Mind on Fire” achieves a similar duality, first by looping a snippet of sampled banjo until its unrecognizable, then amplifying the caricature through the addition of Deacon’s trademark cartoon flourishes and modulated voice effects. All following the same momentum-gathering pattern, the songs here are both carefully composed mosaics and marvelous exercises in cumulative force, consistently aware of the meaning and significance of each damaged part.
Famous for his raucous live shows, Deacon seems like the ideal icon for a generation nudged by economic circumstance into embracing a hand-me-down aesthetic of reclamation, salvage, and reuse. He’s developed, in a lurching series of small innovations, by cannibalizing himself, reabsorbing and reconfiguring moods from previous albums: the wacky cultural deconstruction of the antic, exhausting Spiderman of the Rings; the eerie, cultic reverberations of Bromst; the hectic, purposefully abbreviated sweep of America. All of these are present in some sense on Gliss Riffer, which continues persistently in its strident dissolving of a multitude of nearly familiar fragments into a roiling broth, as Deacon continues to eschew traditional pop songcraft for a singular tidal approach based on the ebb-and-flow amalgamation of dissonant elements. What results is a swirling accumulation of sound, forming into manic campfire roundelays emphasizing themes of community and recovery, the scrappy spectacle of beauty shaped from shiftless sonic waste.