New Release: Negativity
Release Date: September 24, 2013
Record Label: Partisan Records
Sounds Like: Ha Ha Tonka (NMT), Dawes (NMT)
Location: Providence, RI
There's a portfolio of artists and groups that I know are liked by people who's musical tastes I respect, but I just can't seem to get interested in. I can't get beyond the trippy or moody tangents of My Morning Jacket or the stark and fragile whimpers of Justin Vernon and Bon Iver, while both Daft Punk and LCD Soundsystem are just too much electronica for my palate. I won't criticize folks for being into those acts, but I doubt I'll ever take a liking for them. I always figured Deer Tick would be remain among those groups. While I can stomach a certain amount of un-beautiful singing by a lead vocalist if it serves the larger ethos of their catalog (see The Hold Steady's (NMT) Craig Finn (NMT) and Rural Alberta Advantage's [NMT, NMT] Nils Edenloff as examples), I never really found that Deer Tick's frontman John McCauley delivered material that justified the suffering of my aural receptors. I was also deterred by reports of the band's casual drug use, and the harder edge kind at that. Overall, there was some alright stuff, but none of it really hit my nerves, kind of the same way I feel about My Morning Jacket, Bon Iver or groups like Grizzly Bear or Deerhunter (the latter is unrelated to Deer Tick).
So, why I decided to click on a video of the band playing "The Dream's In The Ditch" on Conan last week I don't know, but I'm glad I gave McCauley and his mates another chance. Gone was the sparse, half alt-country, half Replacements derivation of previous efforts. Instead, it was replaced on this track by a full, classic rock motif that while obviously borrowing liberally from Springsteen and Van Morrison, at least delivers a very enjoyable knockoff. Similar to my reaction to the latest work by Ha Ha Tonka last week, Deer Tick sounds like it has graduated from the self-imposed limits of their past work and is now performing in a space that's both inevitable and comfortable based on where they came from.
Come for: "The Dream's In The Ditch" (see above)
Stay for: "The Curtain" (meaty; McCauley's vocals sound as like Axl Rose singing with a blues-rock band; love the organ part from Rob Crowell and lead figures by former Titus Andronicus (NMT) guitarist Ian O'Neil)
You'll be surprised by: "Just Friends" (Bob Seger called: he wants "Main Street" back; sounds circa 1977, not 2013, and that's just great)
Solid efforts: "The Rock" (a little slow at first for a leadoff track, but gets real by the first chorus with punchy drums from Dennis Ryan and pulsing piano lines from Crowell; as usual, I'm a fan of the horns); "Mirror Walls" (easygoing, alt-country-style ballad); "Trash" (after the assault of horns in the intro, the remainder is tres-Van Morrison, all bluesy and smoky; "I want to fall in love again with the open road" and "it's my disposition as a wasteful savant" are the album's finest lines and are expertly-delivered by McCauley); 'Thyme" (the number's minor-key structure plays out like an old detective novel, it should be the soundtrack of puddled alleys and guys called gumshoes; Crowell's piano parts are his best work on the record); "In Our Time" (like so many others in this collection, this tune sounds much older than it is, with its affable rolling country-meets-boogie flow and fantastic guest vocals by Vanessa Carlton); "Hey Doll" (the previously mentioned vocal patterns of both Van Morrison and Axl Rose somehow meet in the middle here and its delightful; its clear Crowell has more freedom to demonstrate his value here than on any previous Deer Tick record, with his steady piano grounding the track); "Pot Of Gold" (as the heaviest number on the album – by far – the effects of McCauley's history with substance abuse are most explicitly discussed here); "Big House" (appropriately restrained solo, acoustic by McCauley to end the session, although he shows hints of a slight lisp that was more prominent on past acoustic tracks that often became distraction)
Meh: "Mr. Sticks" (I'd be fine with it if it didn't follow two other ballads, nothing exceptional here)
Skip to next track: nothing objectionable