Deer Tick Latches Onto Darker Themes, But Keeps Positive Sound
Published: Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, September 25, 2013 20:09
There is something to be said for art which comes from suffering—it is either stunted, mangled, deficient, or it takes flight, spreading magnificent wings to strike awe in others. Now, that is an admittedly lofty metaphor for an indie, country-alternative album, yet Deer Tick manages to find this beauty in the midst of personal turmoil. What comes forth from the band’s fifth album, aptly titled Negativity, is a melancholy yet poignant reflection on the darker side of life.
Despite the dismal lyricism and the various misfortunes that befell the band while recording the album (including the break-up of lead singer John McCauley’s engagement), this is far from a eulogy of the olden, golden days. Instead, the album favors an upbeat feel through the use of horns, lively tempos, and a classic rock and roll swing. Despite the turmoil, Deer Tick manages to take what life has served them and produce their most poignant work yet.
Opening with “The Ring,” McCauley wastes no time in revealing his pain, his gravelly voice crooning “Don’t hold me closer / It’s all too sweet to last. / Come on! Fellow goner / The glory days have passed.” Each song henceforth is tinged with a bittersweet melancholy, the words wrapping the listener in a sorrowful nostalgia, but also with the understanding that the hard times are just as much a part of life as the good. The style of the album fits this well, with John’s slight twang mirroring the ennui of suffering while the extensive instrumentation and driving tempos bring an almost dance-able aspect to the work. Deer Tick also settles back into the country aspect of their alt-country label—the album is reminiscent of a Wilco album circa 1996—while managing to retain a gritty, rock and roll sound, melding the two styles almost seamlessly. At times, the country shines through more, especially in the song “In Our Time,” featuring Vanessa Carlton, whereas “Trash” harkens back to the Elvis era of big guitars and even bigger horns. Only one song seems out of place—the punkish nit-grit of “Pot of Gold” seems as though it belongs on the band’s previous album Divine Providence and only serves to detract from the overall impression of the album.
Worth noting is the increase in production value. It can be said that Deer Tick has finally become a cohesive unit instead of being John McCauley with Deer Tick backing him. There is a hominess here that is present from previous albums, but it is significantly more refined and matured. The instruments range from horns to string ensembles to various mallet percussion and all raunchiness is still calculated and thoughtfully placed. Long-time fans need not be worried—this new album harkens back to the older days of Deer Tick, before the rough and rowdy Divine Providence, and they just have settled into their sound, giving it clarity and direction. Deer Tick’s trademark melancholy and twang is still around, it just sounds much nicer.
Deer Tick manages to capture the anguish of life while also celebrating it. The cover art encompasses this well: the band’s bright, colorful sound being the plane leading along the turmoil they stumbled upon. Never feeling contrived or forced, the album proves itself comforting in the midst of the depressive subject matter. Throughout his lyrics, McCauley acknowledges his faults and his woes, but he never dumps the blame on anyone else—he sees them for what they are and makes to move on from them. Hence why the album can be taken to be a celebration as much as a lament—why the upbeat nature of the music does not seem out of place or a ploy. Negativity stands as a deeply personal statement from Deer Tick, one that has proven that even in the midst of the greatest turmoil, there is something resplendent to be found.