To be honest, going into writing this I knew nothing at all about Deer Tick. They could be a bunch of spade-wielding Apaches, for all I know. But this is the way I like it.
Actually, there was just a nauseating bevy of “deer” bands prancing a-boot the grasslands 10 years ago: Deerhoof I loved immediately for their angular, abrasive weirdness, Deerhunter being more of an acquired taste though similarly noise-pop which would also collect the torch as my favorite live rock act on the planet, by way of the ’09 Lollapalooza. I kept basically seeing the name “deer tick” around this time, despite their critical acclaim, and basically like bashing it with a proverbial weasel-hitting mallet.
But I liked the promo for this new stuff I saw on Facebook: “Put our new albums in your ear drums.” Hey, simple, instructions, just the way I like it! I don’t have to, like, start hating “the suburbs,” or be humble, or keep dancing, or (hopefully) get too bored. But that’s up to little Deer Tick here.
At first, in embarking on this project, I’d thought I could review the two albums in conjunction. Like, this Deer Tick action’s gotta be pretty emotionally regular, right?
Nothing could be further from the truth and about a minute into the festival-rock-reviving opacity of Vol. 2’s opener “Don’t Hurt” I realized that I’d vastly underestimated this Providence, Rhode Island quartet (by the way, if I do a Vol. 2 review after this one that’ll be three straight pieces on bands from Providence, Rhode Island… da** that’s eerie).
Now, in a way Vol. 1 is a great album, and in another way, it’s an ok album. But in every way imaginable, it’s a sad album. This is a band which to be honest has probably been grossly overlooked since their inception (I allude earlier to the veritable herd of “deer” bands having inundated the late-’00s and their non-chic place of origin probably doesn’t help, either). These albums are titled as if marking the genesis of a career, but ironically, on songs like “Cocktail” and “Rejection,” singer John J. McCauley is clearly at the end of his rope.
Now, a lead singer making an overt statement of despair on a rock album, in this case, has ironically little implications as to whether the music is good or bad: indeed, it’s very good soundscape craftsmanship from an everyday indie-folk standpoint, but as we all know, indie-folk is very old at this point, and McCauley’s voice, though physical, isn’t enough to catapult this music into territory of “originality,” necessarily. This being said, I do find his simple melancholy charming: it bespeaks the avoidance of trying to do too much, the way other indie idiot savant wastoids like Nick Cave have a tendency of doing.
Piano chords on the highly depressing “Cocktail” are intricate and mesmerizing and the saxaphone solo on “Limp Right Back” sends things off into the night in style, but another facet in which this album falters is stylistic range — each of these little two-to-five-minute installments of “lounge” takes roughly the same intensity level, musically speaking (although we do get some sense of venting in McCauley’s voice itself, just to clarify). McCauley’s knack for not taking himself too seriously nullifies some of what would otherwise be extreme torpor as a result of this sameness (Ryan Adams’ Prisoner comes to mind as a more pertinent culprit), but nobody’s going to place this LP within the morning-coffee soundtrack. “Afternoon coffee” might be a better occasion… or of course, yes, “morning cocktail.” Thanks a lot.