Arts & Culture

Music Reviews: February 2015

The latest from Dan Deacon, Letitia VanSant, and Panda Bear.

Dan Deacon
Gliss Riffer (Domino)

Over the years, Deacon‘s music has evolved from frenzied party noise to the sort of expansive compositions that complement a long drive on a wide-open road. This self-produced album chips away at the nervous chaos and social themes of his earlier work and in turn delves deeply and earnestly inward. Lyrics confront life’s quandaries and intrinsic anxieties; melodies drift between a yearning energy and lilting dreamscapes. Meanwhile, Deacon builds his complex layers and seamless transitions with a newfound urgency and emphasis on vocals, all of which are his own. You can hear old influences in the ecstatic tribal beats and whirling rush of “Sheathed Wings” and “Meme Generator,” but there’s a new, brimming nostalgia in the lovesick lyrics of “Learning to Relax,” the pastel synth-pop of “Feel the Lightning,” and the driving jungle chant of “When I Was Done Dying” that we haven’t quite heard before. In the end, the album fades out with two instrumentals that burn off and disappear like taillights in the night. Overall, it feels like a heroic search, as Deacon continues to hone his once-frantic sensibility into sweeping electronic symphonies. We don’t want his search to end.

Read our Q&A with musician Dan Deacon.

Letitia VanSant & the Bonafides
Parts & Labor (self-released)

Letitia VanSant and her bandmates have been trucking their folk-singing, string-riddled sound around Baltimore for a few years now—together, in other groups, on their own——but this album marks their official, full-length debut. It was worth the wait. It’s a pretty, soulful record, full of rich, multi-part harmonies; tight, Southern twang; and authentic, Americana storytelling. Songwriting has always been a strongpoint for VanSant, who tells backwoods tales through heartfelt, confessional lyrics. Meanwhile, the quartet, which includes Tom Liddle and brothers David and Will McKindley-Ward, blends acoustic and electronic instruments to infuse their rootsy folk melodies with a dose of indie rock and roll. Moving between sunny stomps like “Rising Tide,” heavy-hearted blues like “Master Plan,” and smoky hymns like “Promised Land,” their songs have a timeless feel, like these young musicians have been at it for ages.

Panda Bear
Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper (Domino)

The title suggests this album would be different from Panda Bear’s previous album, 2011’s blissful, Beach Boys-esque Tomboy. But surprisingly enough, Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper is not all darkness and gloom. Instead, the Baltimore native and Animal Collective member takes the saccharine, sepia tones of his last record and adds depth, color, and a hefty dose of digital pop to create something more edgy, energetic, and full. Tempos speed up, samples mix heavily, reverb is laid on thick, and vocals act as both staccato break-beats and pretty, echoing melodies. The songs are a mix of surreal soundscapes: some eerie, like the monastic, swampy noises of “Sequential Circuits”; some dreamy, like the harp-heavy “Tropic of Cancer”; some synth-riddled and trancey like “Principe Real.” Others are churning cacophonies, like “Mr Noah.” It’s introspective, inspired by his own experiences with relationships, change, and growth, and yet it feels closer to the poppy past of 2007’s Person Pitch or even the lush, layered teamwork of Animal Collective’s best.