Artist: Deer Tick
Album: Vol. 1 & Vol.2
Release Date: 09/15/2017
The Providence, Rhode Island-based unit is making up for some lost time with their first release in four years, not only with twin albums but two different styles. A bottle of catsup and mustard side-by-sde graces both discs distinguishable only by the mustard and catsup colored cardboard sleeves. Catsup, Vol.1, represents a softer sound bathed in folk-oriented acoustic guitars and sparkling keyboards while mustard, Vol.2, delivers the band’s hallmark garage/punk-roots rock sound. Deer Tick front man John J. McCauley comments on the approach, “I think it’s something that was bound to happen, just because I’ve always had one foot in each door. Every album we’ve put out has had its manic moments in one way or another. I felt good enough about everything that I was writing to think that could truly separate our two big interests: quiet and loud.”
While McCauley talks of separation, be prepared for some rather unexpected juxtapositions too. You’ll hear some tender lyrics over angry guitars and gorgeous, classical music like riffs bubbling through melodic pop. It’s as if the scope of the musical talent has no real boundaries; it has the band taking pride in not being easily pigeonholed. Through the many stylistic elements, though, what mainly emerges are the captivating, indelible melodies and superior songwriting. On their 2014 release Negativity McCauley may have been a bit over the top in his character portraits but here the recently married father seems right on the mark with keen observations, introspective sincerity and a few doses of clever wit. This time around, McCauley gets strong songwriting contributions from his band mates too. His own opener on Vol.1, the soaring, Beatles-like “Sea of Clouds” sets the stage for guitarist Ian O’Neill’s “Hope Is Big” and drummer Dennis Ryan’s exuberant “Me & My Man.” While I lean toward Vol.1 for its majestic songcraft, Vol. 2 offers that “roll down the windows and let the wind blow back your hair” approach. It’s a combination of pop, punk, and driving rock that hangs together with catchy hooks. “Don’t Hurt,” “Jumpstarting,” the thumping “It’s a Whale” and “S.M.F” stand out. Following the lilting instrumental, “Pulse,” comes the perfectly strong closer in “Mr. Nothing Gets Worse” as three different singers each take a verse.
Themes of debauchery have been a constant through the band’s catalog and they appear here too but rather subtly in Vol.1’s “Rejection” and Vol.2’s “Jumpstarting.” In both tunes McCauley is reaching out to help someone who is struggling with substance abuse. Ian O’Neil turns the tables with his “Look How Clean I Am,” seemingly poking fun at sobriety but instead commenting on how some use sobriety to further their own celebrity.
Both albums were recorded at the historic Ardent Studios in Memphis. Loyal Deer Tick fans who may have felt that a four-year hiatus was a bit long will likely forgive them now, given the depth and breadth of this project. If you’re new to Deer Tick, this is a great place to start.