Acclaimed roots-rock-americana-country-folk-acoustic-boundary-breakers Deer Tick have released their first new material in four years via Partisan Records. The good news for fans is that they have released not just one, but two new records. This is not a double album either, these are two separate collections of original material (Volume 1 and Volume 2), both recorded at Ardent Studios in Memphis, TN, each with their own distinctive identity. Never a group to stand by conventional protocol, you’ve got to admire their chutzpah!
Deer tick (in one incarnation or another) have been around since 2004 and hail from Providence (the one in Rhode Island) and have always been a little hard to pin down, stylistically. These albums fully reflect that, as the band play at the intersection of genres to create some great songs that defy neat categorisations but still sounds connected and consistent.
The worry when bands issue a lot of material in one go is always quality control, but this is not the case here. Both albums (really very different in tone) are packed full of top notch material. Both albums complement each other yet reflect completely contrasting styles, both of which accurately represent the two distinctive musical personalities of Deer Tick — quiet and thoughtful (Volume 1) / loud and raucous (Volume 2).
“Sea Of Clouds” from Vol. 1 and the garage punk-infused “It’s a Whale” from Vol. 2 show these sides respectively.
Despite being named after a blood-sucking survivor (McCauley explained the inspiration for the name came whilst hiking in Indiana in Summer 2005 where he found a deer tick on his scalp one evening), the band have created two full-force pieces of creativity that breath life into the genres that they inhabit, where beauty and horror collide to make art that transcends.
“I think a lot of my favourite artists have always done stuff like that,” Deer Tick front man John McCauley says from his home in Nashville, reflecting on his band’s love of unexpected mashups: tender lyrics layered over pissed off guitars; classical music flourishes delivered nearly naked and high.
McCauley sees the two records as a natural progression. “I think it’s something that was bound to happen, just because I’ve always had one foot in each door,” he says.
“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 we could truly separate our two big interests: quiet and loud”.
On Deer Tick Volume 1, lead singer/songwriter John McCauley is a masterful introspective and observational songwriter, who documents inner struggles and external conflicts with a perfect balance of heartfelt sincerity and wry wit. The opening track Sea of Clouds encompasses all of what brought so many fans to Deer Tick in the first place, and also what kept them there. Guitarist Ian O’Neil’s “Hope is Big” and drummer Dennis Ryan’s “Me & My Man” expand on the group’s already dynamic range.
On Deer Tick Volume 2, the band turns it up and lets it fly with an injection of punk-inspired garage rock at it’s finest. Clever lyrics, infectious hooks and captivating melodies pack Volume 2, with bassist Christopher Ryan skillfully laying it down with authority and attitude. The propulsion of opener “Don’t Hurt”, edgy pop of “Jumpstarting” and rowdy punk of “It’s a Whale” reveal that there was an obvious Jekyll & Hyde approach to recording both volumes. Volume 2 closes with boisterous “Mr. Nothing Gets Worse”, with all three singers taking a verse on a song that would have made The Replacements proud.
It’s been four years since Deer Tick’s last release Negativity, and fans have grown restless. Interestingly, the band weren’t holding anything back, they just didn’t think they had anything more to share, which makes these releases even more impressive.
“It wasn’t anything that we actually talked about,” McCauley says. “We never said, ‘Hey, we should take a break,’ or ‘Maybe this isn’t working anymore.’ We just took some time off. We’d just done our 10-year anniversary shows, and I had a kid like two weeks later.” He pauses before adding with a hint of a laugh, “We just kind of got comfortable away from each other.”
Fans will be pleased to see they’ve now decided to get comfortable together again and will be delighted with the result – two mood pieces that go together but can be enjoyed apart. My preferred listening order is Volume 2 first (the raucous band you have just seen tear up the local music venue and then Volume 1 (the comedown, chill out album you listen to when you get home, eating cold pizza and having some hair of the dog. That;s just a preference thing, and you can obviously listen to these albums in whatever order the mood takes you.
Any music fan should spend some time with Deer Tick Volume 1 and Volume 2 and soak up two albums of thoughtful lyrics, great tunes and a band who are clearly having a good time together at the intersection of genres. McCauley says:
“These albums represent a new phase of my life that I haven’t entirely figured out yet. I don’t really know what’s going to happen, but that’s part of the excitement for me”.
The band will soon be announcing some 2018 tour dates and will be well worth seeing.
Deer Tick Vol. 1 Tracklist:
01. Sea of Clouds
02. Card House
03. Doomed from the Start
04. Hope is Big
05. Only Love
07. Me and My Man
08. End of the World
09. Limp Right Back
Deer Tick Vol. 2 Tracklist:
01. Don’t Hurt
03. Look How Clean I Am
04. It’s a Whale
05. Tiny Fortunes
10. Mr. Nothing Gets Worse