Dan Deacon, Bromst (Carpark Records)
When Baltimore's weirdo-du-jour Dan Deacon suggested last year that the followup to his 2007 breakthrough Spiderman of the Rings would be a notably darker affair, his fans (including more than a few Knoxvillians, thanks to his frequent stops at Pilot Light) were surely left curious. What could "dark" mean coming from a guy whose maximalist electro-spaz, as occasionally disturbing as it can be, is best described as nothing short of giddy?
He later clarified his meaning somewhat, but Bromst speaks just as well for itself: There's not a whole lot of darkness, but from opener "Build Voice" on it's apparent that Deacon has put much more of himself into his work this time around, and the result is a disarmingly affecting electronic pop record. Where Spiderman often felt like a collection of half-songs and silly sound art packed around best-of-the-year barnstormer "Wham City," Bromst works much better as an album thanks to its relative emphasis on composition. There's still some sketchwork, and pieces that work better by themselves (like rubbery live favorite "Woof Woof"), but for the most part Deacon has stepped up both his sonics and his songs, often in tandem; the quiet moments (parts of Bromst recall an ADHD-afflicted Múm) marry together well with his trademark Toontown coke-rave soundtracks, thanks to an increasingly organic knack for tension and release, and his meticulously double-stuffed aesthetic pushes his hooks to places no sane man would dare.
There are portions of Bromst where Deacon repeats himself—his melodic sensibilities are strong but a bit narrow—but he makes up for it with increased focus. Unmistakable whiffs of the sublime "Wham City" are easily forgiven, especially when the similarly central "Snookered" very nearly overtakes it with poise and poignance. Even Dan Deacon's admirers may have questioned his ability to mature, but Bromst is an exhilarating step forward.