Dan Deacon: an App for America

Dan Deacon


Domino Records


America is electronic musician Dan Deacon’s third full length recording, and his first for the Domino imprint. It would be easy for someone uninitiated with Deacon’s previous work to assume that this is a “rah-rah” type of artistic statement, but those familiar with his usually dense and sometimes frenetic music are forgiven if they wondered if there was some tongue in cheek joke intended by the title.

There’s not: Deacon intends the album to be an exploration of his experiences as an American, albeit one of a more left-leaning, even countercultural, mindset than the artists who are usually found putting “America” in their albums’ titles. According to recent interviews, including one in the New York Times, Deacon’s initial response to the post 9/11 era was to feel disassociated from his national identity. Over time, realizing that, despite wrestling with or flat out rejecting many of the Bush era’s policies and value systems, and some that have persisted under the current president, Deacon found that he couldn’t escape an association with his country of origin, even when travelling abroad. America is a musical work based on this reintegration experience.

A somewhat puzzling aspect of the Times profile linked above: it emphasizes a narrative of Deacon as a burgeoning contemporary classical composer that seems to soft pedal his formidable capacities as a creator of effusive, if at times knotty, electronica by making it sound as if this aspect of his work might be moving into the rear view mirror. To be sure, Deacon has a sheepskin from SUNY Purchase in electronic music composition and credits on crossover events such as Merkin Hall’s Ecstatic Music series. That said, there’s no need for an either/or juxtaposition. Even in the midst of the album’s formidable “B side,” a four movement suite titled USA, Deacon hasn’t left his beats at home. What he’s done instead is to integrate them into a fabric that gives a nod to the wide dynamic spectrum of concert music and incorporates some of its instrumentation into a porous, even shape shifting, musical fabric. These are songs writ large, with an artist gaining greater depth of awareness, exploring nuances of arrangement, and striking a pose that serves as a sharp contrast to any homegrown jingoist ideas about music-making.

Alongside the release of America, Deacon has also released a free Dan Deacon app. Featuring a synthesizer loop program, spectrogram, dB meter, and links to other Deacon activities, it’s a fun addition to one’s smart phone or tablet. I’m lobbying for the designers to add the ability to take a picture of the spectrographs you create, which would make it very useful for composers.

Dan Deacon App video

Real Estate likes puppies – and touring!

Real Estate’s latest CD Days is out now on Domino.

Tour Dates

Sat-Nov-19    Lexington, KY            Cosmic Charlies *

Sun-Nov-20    Pittsburgh, PA            Garfield Art Works *

Mon-Nov-21    Philadelphia, PA        Johnny Brenda’s *

Wed-Nov-23    New York, NY            Bowery Ballroom *

Wed-Nov-30    Barcelona, Spain       KGB

Thu-Dec-01    Valencia, Spain         Wah Wah

Fri-Dec-02     Madrid, Spain         El Sol

Sat-Dec-03    Lisbon, Portugal     LZB

Mon-Dec-05   Clermont Ferrand, France    TBD

Fri-Dec-09    Copenhagen, Denmark     Vega

Sat-Dec-10    Gothenberg, Sweden    Henriksberg

Sun-Dec-11   Stockholm, Sweden    Slussen

Mon-Dec-12   Oslo, Norway   John Dee

* = w/ Big Troubles

Real Estate – It’s Real by DominoRecordCo

Austra: “Feel it Break” (CD Review)


Feel it Break

Domino Records CD (DNO 292P)

Katie Stelmanis has a haunting voice which she deploys to powerful effect as the vocalist for Toronto-based band Austra. Their full length debut via Domino features darkly hued electronica with 80s-era synthetic timbres and danceable beats.

There are plenty of bands that have tried to mine this territory of late. But the combination of memorable hooks, and Stelmanis’ pipes singing them, allows Austra to stand out from the back.

If you think that Eighties nostalgia has lasted longer than the era itself, you’re probably right. But the best exponents of dark wave, bands like Austra, use the materials made famous by 80′s era pop songs as a touchstone and a jumping off point, not merely for the sentimental thrill (now chilled). As such, Feel it Break allows the listener a refreshed take on synth-pop, which is welcome news indeed.

Here are a couple of live videos of the band performing at SXSW 2011.

Tricky – Mixed Race (CD Review)


Mixed Race


“The album’s called Mixed Race because being mixed race is the single biggest influence on my music. You sat down at the table in my house and you saw every colour. It’s made me much more open-minded than I could’ve been. I come from both worlds.”

-Tricky on Mixed Race

Tricky spent several years of the oughts on hiatus from recording, but in the past three years he’s returned with 2008′s Knowle West Boy and now Mixed Race. His current aesthetic is more stylistically diverse than the darkly hued electronica of his 90s work. But Tricky’s still not planning to let his music live on the sunny side of the street anytime soon.

On Mixed Race, there’s a plethora of reference points, from Middle Eastern music, supplied by lutenist-singer Hakim Hamadouche, on “Hakim” to Henry Mancini’s “Peter Gunn Theme” mixed with dancehall on Echo Minott’s 1993 hit “Murder Weapon.” “UK Jamaican” incorporates robo-house synths and beats. As always a number of artists make guest appearance: Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie, Jamaican vocalist Terry Lynn, and UK singer Blackman. He even gets some help from a family member: his brother Marlon Thaws.

Perhaps the album’s signature collaboration  is with a relative newcomer: the Irish-Italian singer Frankie Riley, whose supple voice graces several cuts on the album. ”Ghetto Stars” pits Riley’s soaring vocal and cinematic string samples against dystopian raspy-voiced sprechstimme and trip hop beats. It serves as a bracing antidote to any and all hip hop odes to the gangster lifestyle, presenting an unvarnished look at urban criminality.

If Tricky hasn’t entirely found a way to make a break with the bleak world view that is central to much of his most compelling work, he’s certainly added new hues to broaden this prevailingly dark palette. That, and fruitful engagement with new musical collaborators, makes Mixed Race an engaging listen.

Orange Juice – streaming tracks from boxed set

26 years after their last full length release of new material, Orange Juice’s compendious career-surveying boxed set Coals to Newcastle is out on 11-22-2010. Orange Juice was Scotland’s answer to post-punk, and their music was a touchstone both for fellow Glaswegian pop artists and for the burgeoning American indie pop scene of the 1980s.

It’ll certainly be on many a neo-pop fan’s Christmas list. But why wait? Thanks to the kind folks at Domino, you can stream five songs from the forthcoming release below!

Jon Hopkins remixed by touring partner Four Tet (Video)

Jon Hopkins is supporting Four Tet on his latest tour (dates below). He’s recently released a video of FT’s remix of his new track “Vessel.”

Never one to let grass grow under his feet, Four Tet recently remixed the XX too:

The xx – VCR (Four Tet remix) by Four Tet


Four Tet

* w/ Jon Hopkins (as main support)

10-14 Chicago, IL – Metro *

10-15 Los Angeles, CA – Henry Fonda Theater *

10-16 San Francisco, CA – Treasure Island Music Festival

10-20 Toronto, ON – The Mod Club *

10-21 Montreal, QC – Studio Just For Laugh *

10-22 New York, NY – Webster Hall *

10-24 Washington, DC – 9:30 Club *

10-30 Asheville, NC – Moog Festival*

These New Puritans orchestrate on new LP

These New Puritans

These New Puritans

On Hidden, their sophomore release, These New Puritans incorporate orchestral instruments alongside synthesizers and driving post-punk rhythms to create an unusually hybridized sound palette. But adding choir, woodwinds, and brass to the mix has done nothing to dilute the urgency of TNP’s songs. They don’t incorporate them in a suave, neoclassical fashion. Indeed, Jack Barnett’s classical chops were honed in a month-long crash course in notation. Instead they appear in angular block-like formations, glaciers a-swirl in a maelstrom sea of pop signatures. Sounds affects – including a sample of knives being sharpened – are also liberally incorporated, as are out-of-the-box dance-hall beats and synthetic loops.

But the severity of these incorporations suits Hidden, an album more about stark juxtapositions rather than finely nuanced transitions. It also manages to blunt any notion that the use of classical forces or filmic effects on a rock record necessitates sonic domestication. Quite the contrary, this is a woolly and wild, yet eminently gratifying, recording.