Dan Deacon

Spiderman of the Rings

(Carpark; 2007)

By Dom Sinacola | 5 June 2007

Much of what I've learned about Dan Deacon is hearsay -- I'm collecting pieces, forgoing my dubious tenure as tastemaker -- through my friend Ed whose friend Owen used to (or still does) live in Baltimore and once followed a Deacon show with a DJ set devoted almost solely to slow funk and RnB. I thought the contrast between Deacon's music and slow funk and RnB was kinda (or still is) funny and so did Ed, and no doubt the plain irony of the situation wasn't lost on Owen either; as it goes, the distance I have from the music and from Dan Deacon and from the Wham City collective can really only become clear as a sort of ironic cynicism. Spiderman of the Rings is a pummeling, manic record, sometimes championing a head-molestation so assaultive and slack-jawed dopey that enduring it requires a resolve steely and twisted, a taste for mayhem and ulcers, for headaches and pulled muscles. Or, you just have to be there, have to have been there, because from what I hear, time's up and Future Shock is dying.

I'm not entirely sure what that means; let me rephrase: I'm not entirely sure what any of this means. My understanding of Wham City is limited to getting wind of a vestigial entity that also seems to operate as a core of sorts in the Baltimore underground and dance scene. The collective, which is mostly ruled by some avant-garde sentiment toward regurgitated pop tropes and a breakcore mish-mash of punk and bubblegum, emigrated from SUNY's Purchase College in New York to Baltimore warehouses, slipping into the drone/noise/whatever landscape not as ilk but as partners in monotony, repetition, and uncompromising escape. So it seems. The reality of Wham City isn't as clearly defined, and members or intelligentsia orbit groups like Blood Baby or Ecstatic Sunshine, where music ranges from destructive and violent to cuddly and absurd. The only thing that ostensibly gels the amorphous crew is a devotion to performance and a penchant for being ridiculous assholes. Dan Deacon specializes in both and fits the bill as the One Guy to bring the group's message to the world.

It turns out that Spiderman of the Rings is some seriously context-sensitive work, as is Deacon's music, and by extension is a lot of what there is of Wham City's merchandise available to everywhere outside Baltimore. The price us aliens must pay for wandering light years away from that Metropolis is formidable: we miss out on the party. Like, we get this feeling, no we know, we're really missing some fucking huge blowout of a shindig where everyone gets laid by exactly the person their body wants because brains don't exist there and faces are only spots at which to aim. In that fantasy, God bless Dan Deacon for his explicit, frightening ass-kicking of a record. He's found a constantly exciting and horrific nugget of nostalgia buried somewhere deep in our bulbous, collective cerebrum. He drags it out, which hurts at first but quickly numbs and warms. Like a tattoo. I can't help but shake, let my tongue loll out. Yay! I'm a gee-whiz motherfucking hyena over here! I'm laughing in your furry fat face and you're loving it, you ugly mama! Hoo-boy! I'm going to drag this word count out an extra eighty cents and never get paid! Next stop Dang-Town! Gulp!

In my headphones, the music just makes me awkward. I mean, fucking cripes; sensitivity can't even begin to describe the way its glut sits squat on my skull, relieving it's weight like hyper-humps on an old mattress. Oh, and in a bright, fluorescently lit room so that every blemish and patch of cellulite glows, jiggles for exactly what it is. Again, I know, I'm returning to sex metaphors. It's nothing new. But most of the information accessible on Deacon is just as repetitive and loud, his horn-rimmed spectacles splayed across whatever banner or page or cover suits him. In fact, a lot of my gleaned trivia comes from Jess Harvell's report on Wham City or from his review for Pitchfork; undeniably, his enthusiasm spurts from the text. That's exciting, he was there, hearing the members call themselves assholes, watching them tear shit apart, listening to them talk about tearing shit apart, becoming a part of Deacon's choir as "Wham City" devolves into its mythical chant. Help me, Jess, what am I missing? I'm being paranoid again: am I just a bummer over here?

Given time, I'm coming around. If Deacon is spearhead, lunkhead, and fat genius slob in one, then I can fall under the album's spell while simultaneously being repulsed by it. At times the contradiction is uncomfortable--I can't help but dig my nails into my hand knowing Deacon will stutter "Green Trippy Skull" from semi-Latin semi-Gregorian incantation into an insectile squealing and grinding industrial drum wallops; I can't help but wiggle when Deacon sings the chorus to Ludacris's "What's Your Fantasy?" through typically, harrowingly pitch-shifted vocals. And "Snake Mistake" I really do like, a song like every other made up of the same high-mixed floor drums, cosmic sine twists, amorphous bass, and Fisher Price Daft Punk vocals, but it's inviting rather than abusive, a surefire pop song more structured immediately than structured on immediacy. Plus, the unexpected bridge "My dad is so cool, he is the coolest dad and that's cool, he does not break any Dad Rules, he would pick you up if I asked him to" hits at precisely the perfect moment, before the song exhausts, illogically, a bridge that gives Deacon's formula a second wind. And closers "Pink Batman" and "Johnny Lee Roche" (named after fellow Whamster and "Crystal Cat" director) reach for "classical" catharsis, so the climb is recognizable, pleasant; electro-erotic fugues more in how the word sounds than in the definition of whatever a fugue might actually be. But Deacon surely knows what a fugue is. After all, he's an educated musician, has a Master's Degree in electro-acoustic composition or some such sort, understands his deconstructive layers more than I ever could. Which leads me to posit that "Woody Woodpecker" is brutal as service to a higher purpose, that claws reach from beneath its seven xylophone strikes, from its organ fizz, from its sound byte fucking to latch on to something visceral and celebratory. The disdain it inspires is a temporal wall, a full-bodied milky indigestion to walk off. I sweated profusely when I first heard the song. Am I able to both love and hate the album so wholly, especially when Deacon televises his revolution so disagreeably?

Fact is, outside the party, outside Baltimore, not much heralded music can instill such an anatomically upsetting reaction in the audience, in its context-less, Martian non-denizens. As far as I know. And maybe, since Deacon and Wham City no longer have a permanently functioning HQ, and since Deacon's popularity seems to necessarily fracture the unanimous HiveThought of the group, an album like Spiderman of the Rings is a touchstone (and piece of nostalgic pap) to be cherished. Moments like the muddy snare sudsing to life to inhabit "Wham City"'s second movement are to be cherished. Loved actively. Mercilessly ping-ponged around the skull until the pings din into the pongs and shit makes its own logic. Then again, if here we have the solid, immutable testament to music best left at the moment of conception, or, furthest from there, in the guise of a blistering first listen, what about a year from now? I could barely stand two weeks of this thing. I'm already jonesing to put it away for a long time. Sadly, I'll never get that first listen back; without it, Spiderman of the Rings is just a decent album with some serious, enragingly stupid problems.