“Negativity may be the most aptly titled album of the year so far; the lyrics are dark, vulnerable, highly personal and very clearly drawn from a depth of soul-wrenching experience. What’s remarkable, however, is that all this darkness is cast in illumination, producing a beautifully cracked sound.”
Artist: Deer Tick
Genre: Country Soul / Americana / Folk Rock
RIYL: Langhorne Slim, AA Bondy, Delta Spirit, Dawes
Deer Tick is one of those bands that feels like an instant like-it-or-leave-it artist; for those who enjoy a band that defies musical classification and creates a sonic bastard child of Hank Williams Sr-meets-Bruce Springsteen, this is the group for you. What I’ve always enjoyed about their material is an uncanny knack to meld the very distinct vocal stylings of leader John McCauley with a seamless blend of influences that range from classic country to rock to soul, all present here on Negativity.
Negativity may be the most aptly titled album of the year so far; the lyrics are dark, vulnerable, highly personal and very clearly drawn from a depth of soul-wrenching experience. What’s remarkable, however, is that all this darkness is cast in illumination, producing a beautifully cracked sound. Where their last LP, Divine Providence, felt loose and erratic, Negativity is focused and ambitious in its more simplified approach. The well-placed use of a horn section, classic guitar lines and showcase for McCauley’s passionate vocals elevate the Deer Tick sound on this release.
“The Road” opens gently before ripping straight into a soul-baring, classic sound that make this lead single a perfect introduction to the band’s refreshed and reflective album. “The Curtain” and “The Dream’s in the Ditch” begin a progressive climb through the peaks and valleys of the self-reflective psyche, where you wake up from a haze to ponder where you are the morning after. “Mirror Walls” made an immediate impression employing a hypnotic percussive groove laced with lyrical nuggets like “tell me that our time was not spent in vain/tell me i can sop it up and save it from the drain.”
The bluesy “Trash” takes this sentiment to another place, feeling cautiously hopeful and equally resentful of lost love with a killer horn section and guitar solo. It’s a standout, leading into the equally unique “Thyme,” a sort of hillbilly punked out and wonderfully weird mindtrip reminiscent of 1970s glitter rock (and a vocal track that for some reason kept reminding me slightly of Ozzy Osbourne). “Pot of Gold” is a gritty, harder-edged track that heaves and howls with great satisfaction (or dissatisfaction, depending on your perspective). “Hey Doll” and “Big House” round out a strong set of 12 songs that show great depth and versatility while maintaining a common and focused thread throughout the entire record.
The surprise of the album, however, is a duet between McCauley and pop songstress Vanessa Carlton. “In Our Time” is a pairing I’d never piece together on my own, but it’s an interesting blend of vocal power with Carlton’s smooth as honey, country-tinged tone mixing in perfect harmony with McCauley’s signature rasp. They both sound wonderful, and there is an undeniable musical chemistry.
With the release of Negativity, Deer Tick manages to harness the despair and fragility of how we relate to our disappointments - in ourselves and others - and how we get stuck in the mire of our existence. But it is also an album of resurrection, and it shines despite the darkness with newfound strength and attention. Musically, it’s not only a return to form for McCauley and company; Deer Tick have found the power to edit in a way that doesn’t take away, but rather leaves them exposed with their strengths standing front and center.
Deer Tick website: http://deertickmusic.com/