In over a decade of innovations and outside-the-lines musical thinking, we have never quite got to hear Dan Deacon’s voice. I’m not talking about the intangible representation of his creative character, but his actual, literal voice. Whenever the Baltimore experimentalist’s larynx-based vibrations have been captured, it has been after some process of distortion or obfuscation, to fit with the strange, orchestrated artificiality of the alien worlds in which his records reside.
Settle in, then, for opening track ‘Become a Mountain’ here; a new frontier in the Deacon oeuvre. The first words nakedly sung by Deacon are, “I rose up, tired in my flesh.” It’s an attention-grabber. “On this day before me,” he continues, “will I seize it or scroll?” Suddenly we have an impossibly tangled mind spilling over with candour, and it takes some addressing. He goes on to introduce the titular ‘Mystic Familiar’, which Deacon suggests is a bodiless other figure that exists inside, or alongside, our own consciousness that only we can access. It binds the album’s eleven tracks together and offers Deacon a device to allow him to expand on matters of aging, loss and doubt.
The centrepiece is a four-part suite entitled ‘Arp’ that reflects a life cycle, taking the listener from a youth of blinking possibility, through the learning and repetition of maturity, to the uncertainty at the end of the road. The darting, clattering vivacity of the synths of the suite’s first half is rugby-tackled by the squirling chaos of Andrew Bernstein’s saxophone and the latter half’s pounding nervousness of sub-bass rhythms. This is abstract storytelling of fairly high order and could exist as a release all of its own.
Matters of mortality return with album highlight ‘Fell Into the Ocean’, wherein our narrator and/or the Mystic Familiar are subsumed into the water’s cycle of life, soundtracked by synths that are now at peace and conjure beauty and wonder rather than fear or dread. Lead single ‘Sat By a Tree’ finds Deacon conversing in existential philosophy with said tree, as washes of electric ambience are propelled into dancing shapes by a galloping rhythm, almost evoking Stereolab. Moods shift significantly throughout Mystic Familiar, but the themes are constant. Dan Deacon has let us into his mind for the first time and it has only compounded his mystique.