Review Summary: On Mystic Familiar, Deacon spins noise into a satisfying progressive pop celebration.
The story of indietronica artist Dan Deacon isn’t exactly a long one, but it’s at least more interesting than your average artist. Deacon got his start spinning strange, improvisational electronic pieces; ones filled with glitchy noise passages, spoken word fragments, and the sporadic ingenuity of a sugar-addled six-year-old. It’s been quite some time since then, and the man seems to have grown a bit since those days. But listening to his latest release, Mystic Familiar, you probably wouldn’t have guessed it. While the means of delivering that child-like sense of spontaneity have changed over the years, the undercurrent of that original spark can still be heard in everything Deacon has released since and Mystic Familiar is no exception, weaving a beautiful pop blanket out of a thread of psychedelic noise.
However, “Become a Mountain” and “Hypnagogic,” the album’s openers, are not the explosive intro one might expect. While the former is in the tradition of some of Deacon’s other opening tracks (“Wooody Wooodpecker,” “Build Voice”), “Hypnagogic” is a worryingly tepid interlude and very out of step for a Dan Deacon release. Especially for the second track on the album. That said, it does serve an actual purpose here: to whet the listener’s appetite for the auditory blitz that follows. What makes Mystic Familiar so engaging is its sheer overbearing density. It’s still difficult to describe Deacon’s production style even some fifteen years later. After all this time, it’s still so unique to the man that the two are almost inseparable. Of course, those unfamiliar with the artist previously may not take to Deacon’s colorful electronic soundscapes very easily, but given the chance, the album is an absolute joy to listen to.
One set of tracks worth mentioning is the Arp ‘suite,’ collectively spanning just over 12 minutes. Each track leads into one another: the glitchy “Arp I: Wide Eyed” opens into the anthemic stylings of “Arp II: Float Away,” which is closed out by the final act “Arp III: Far from Shore” and the fettered fade-to-black “Arp IV: Any Moment.” Deacon isn’t a stranger to more progressive, long-form pieces, but Arp I-IV may be some of his best work in that style to date. And while lyrics were never the major draw for any Dan Deacon album, I feel the lyrics are also thematically stronger this go-around. Mentions to aging and the passage of time, congruent with bouncy indietronica; I’m a total sucker for contradictions like that in music and Mystic Familiar has it in spades.
It’s these interesting ideas that make the more lackluster parts of the album stand out even more. “Hypnagogic,” while useful in its own way, does not hold up to repeat listens. I find myself hitting the skip button directly after “Become a Mountain,” just so I can get to the ‘main course’ of the album (so to speak). A bit spoiled of me, sure. But in my mind, any interlude included on an LP should be worth listening to by itself, and “Hypnagogic” just isn’t. There’s also pleasant, yet forgettable “Fell Into the Ocean,” which sounds more like album filler than anything. Neither of these are enough to ruin the album, but Mystic Familiar isn’t an overly long listen as it is and any dead air on an album that’s mostly pure energy can weigh it down if not done properly.
Those brief faltering moments fall to the wayside by the final two tracks however, with the vibrant, psych-flavored “My Friend” and “Bumble Bee Crown King.” The latter, my personal favorite on the album, is a long-form track that is reminiscent of Deacon’s These two tracks make up just about ¼ of the album, but take the album from merely enjoyable to explosive. It’s fitting that most of the lyrics on Mystic Familiar are about time, with Dan Deacon nearing his second decade producing music very soon. In that time, the man has grown both inside and out, both as a musician and as a person. But even after so much growth, it’s comforting to know he can still capture that child-like sense of wonder. Here’s to never growing up, Dan.