Dan Deacon has always been a divisive artist, generally either loved or hated by listeners, either hailed as a prolific innovator, or hypocritically panned as hipster scum. Presumptions aside, his catalog is pretty expansive, ranging from the borderline obnoxious to the borderline intellectual. Gliss Riffer, his first release in three years, contains elements from both ends of the spectrum.
It’s often difficult to tell exactly what Deacon is trying to do with his music, and Gliss Riffer is no exception. At first, the album seems to follow a relatively straightforward one-song-after-another format, but the songs themselves often have very little in the way of discernible structure. “Meme Generator” is a pastiche of samples and melodies that doesn’t progress toward any particular end, a common theme on the album. The songs are eclectic as can be, working lots of sparkling glissando riffs (hey, wait a minute) into collages of melody and sound effects, with energetic drum lines to pull the thread along, but they’re often jogging in place.
The music definitely weaves a thick quilt, and it can easily become uncomfortably heavy. Although it feels a bit more musically mature than some of Deacon’s past work in electro-ADHD, it doesn’t quite stand on its own. Despite each song having its own individually bright and colorful sound, they all fade together into a kind of messy rainbow camouflage. Like public transportation upholstery, Gliss Riffer is so varied in its palette and so dense in its patterning that it fades into a fairly uniform and edge-less backdrop that hides stains well, but isn’t particularly attractive. “Feel the Lightning” is a strong opener, with its distorted but still largely audible vocals layering over sensible blurry melodies to create a surprisingly smart pop song. The rest of the album, unfortunately, tends to fall flat.
“Take it to the Max” is a final bright spot on this record, a slow-building track that takes obvious influence from minimalist composers like Steve Reich and Philip Glass. It starts off rolling quickly on bare percussion and slowly layers repeating melodies on top of each other, gaining size and gravity like a snowball until it disintegrates into nothing. It’s a song, like the opening track, that has purpose and direction — things that the rest of Gliss Riffer can’t seem to find.