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Dan Deacon: Mystic Familiar

Baltimore composer and musician Dan Deacon is back after a five-year hiatus from studio work (he has produced for other artists and written a few film scores within in this time), to release his fifth studio album, Mystic Familiar. Deacon returns to the psychedelic pop sound that he has explored on past records and expands upon it, making this record dreamier and more enigmatic and delivering longer, more patient tracks that rely on a minimalist texture and a realized landscape to capture listeners. That is what ultimately lends towards the album’s success: an introspective, fully-realized musical environment that doesn’t overstep its bounds, but never (or rarely) feels like it is lacking in content or direction either.

Beginning with “Become a Mountain,” Deacon wastes no time introducing you to the musical palette that he has in store for his listeners. The repetition of keyboard chords, almost staccato-sounding, leads into a trill of higher notes that move with an ebb and flow in relation to the consistent and ever-present choppy chords. As the track progresses, it adds in layered vocals and a flowing harp among other fully realized pieces that all culminate into a psychedelic soundscape. This is a great example of what the music of Mystic Familiar sounds like, thematically. It’s grandiose and extravagant, but still minimalist and layered and most certainly psychedelic. Lyrically, this opening track also plays heavily with a neo-psychedelia sound.
“I rose up, tired in my flesh,” are the first words sung by Deacon, in a calm and almost subdued tone. Echoing and electronic vocal distortions seem to lift Deacon as an entity, giving his voice more energy as he continues. This leads into another key aspect of the album: the use of backup vocals to create airy harmony and a textured layering feel. This can be heard throughout the album on tracks like “Sat By A Tree” and “Fell Into the Ocean,” two of the more enjoyable tracks off the album. Further along the song we hear Deacon croon, “Close your eyes and become a mountain, become all around you…” a line that contemplates the metaphysical nature of being and the nature of change.
The contemplation of time, evolution, and the physical world makes for philosophical meditation at times, allowing the minimalist nature of the album to engulf you into these daring questions. The first two instrumental tracks on the album, “Hypnagogic” and “Weeping Birch,” utilize this minimalist aesthetic the most, with long airy synths that allow for relaxation necessary for the asking of these out-of-body questions. It is interesting, and very pointed, how they bookend the most chaotic and experimental part of the album, the four “Arps.”
These tracks are hardly minimal, adding in aspects of noise rock, more defined drums and percussions, and free-form jazz and brass instrumentals. These act as almost as the chaotic exploration of the mind, the untrained philosopher hopping down a multitude of rabbit holes until he no logger has a firm grasp on the end goal. The “Arps” are a little journey of their own, a fall out of tranquility for the point of Deacon to audibly put himself back together in the latter half of the four tracks. By the time we reach “Arp IV: Any Moment,” he has reigned in the brass instrumentals and electronic noise and is able to bend them to his will.
Sonically, this an interesting plot device as it culminates to the highest point on the album, “Fell Into the Ocean.” The track starts off with these electrical trills spinning into slow percussion and Deacon’s dreamy vocals, an allegory for his experiences into meditation, eventually leading to Deacon reassuring the listener with lines, “Dig deep, the water deep down is safe enough to drink,” and “Feel free, first you must relax before transcend,” as high-pitched vocals accompany in the background. This track is almost a mark of mastery for Deacon, the ability to falter and bring himself back from a mental labyrinth enough to mentor another and demonstrate this exemplary ability.
This gives Mystic Familiar a neo-psychedelic arc that finds Deacon exploring metaphysical themes through a minimalist and dreamy electronic sound. The thematic elements of the project can be lost at times, yet overall this is a very successful step forward for Dan Deacon as a lyricist and a multi-instrumentalist. Differing enough from past sounds while still holding true to his psychedelic basics, Mystic Familiar has no trouble cementing itself among past Dan Deacon projects.

Recommended If You Like: Animal Collective, Black Moth Super Rainbow, Panda Bear
Recommended Tracks: 1 (Become a Mountain), 3 (Sat By A Tree), 9 (Fell Into the Ocean)
Do Not Play: N/A
Written by Matt Stratton on 02/21/2020