Album Review: Deer Tick Vol. 1 & Deer Tick Vol. 2
By Ian Bremner / OldRookie.com
There usually is no in between when it comes to Deer Tick in the music fan’s lexicon. You either have little familiarity with Deer Tick or you loooooove Deer Tick. These days, they are not so much of an indie band, or a country rock band, a grunge band, as much as they are a cult band. Frontman John McCauley, still in his early thirties, has lived the story of many classic troubadours - a lot of hard earned road miles and drunken nights. But these days, he has cleaned up his act quite a bit. He is married, has a daughter. His voice is smoother and more assured. Lyrics are easier to decipher. Gone are the days of full blown, year-long drunken circus tours, but that’s not to say the days of debauchery are completely over. The band just chooses its moments more wisely.
After the tour cycle for their last record, 2013’s Negativity, Deer Tick was worn out. If you had been following the band, you could sense it. The band was changing. With a new family at home, McCauley's priorities shifted and the band began to take a back seat. Bandmates Ian O’Neil and brothers Chris and Dennis Ryan welcomed the change and went back to their hometowns to take some well-deserved time off. Beloved by fans and respected by its peers, the band’s future was left in the air.
Sometime last year Deer Tick booked the legendary Ardent Studios in Memphis. Whatever the spark was, John, Ian, and Dennis had decided it was time to get the proverbial “band back together” and flush out what they had been writing. The plan was to lay down what they had and see if it was worth pursuing further. Even before this studio session they had tossed around the idea of recording TWO albums at the same time. It seemed to make sense. Trying to pin down Deer Tick’s musical style is like trying to guess the number on a twelve-sided die. As the recording went on, it became clear that one album would be acoustic and the other electric.
A four-year hiatus proved to be just the refreshment Deer Tick was seeking. Two self-titled records, Deer Tick Vol. 1 (the acoustic one) and Deer Tick Vol. 2 (the electric one) are an equal reflection of Deer Tick V.2017. Vol. 1 might remind folks of McCauley’s early songwriting work such as "War Elephant" or "Born on Flag Day" – but with ten years evolution behind him. There is noticeably no country twang or rustling beer bottles in the background. The ten-song acoustic collection is a polished, genre-bending set with pretty piano and horn arrangements. Ian O’Neil’s "Hope Is Big," which has been a live staple in Deer Tick shows finally made it onto an album and drummer Dennis Ryan’s vocals appear on the vintage pop tune, "Me And My Man." Vol. 1 closes with a fantastic three-song sequence of "End of the World," "Limp Right Back." and "Rejection."
Both records make no mistake of their intentions. Vol. 2 starts as raucous as it ends. Their third album, 2011's Divine Providence, is known as the group’s drunken punk record and while there are traces of that on Volume 2, it contains more focus. Deer Tick is one of the few bands that is allowed to play sloppy as a part of their charm, but even for this set of plugged-in, loud rock tunes, there is a mature cleanliness to it. Songs like "Jumpstarting" and the Ian O’Neill-penned "Look How Clean I Am" give off a early '90s radio vibe that could be slotted next to anything from the Replacements’ Tim or Pleased to Meet Me.
Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 are entirely separate recordings meant for different listening moods, yet pair together admirably. Perhaps Vol. 2 lends itself more towards the late night spectrum and Vol. 1 could be saved for the retrospective morning, headache and all. They’re almost a perfect metaphor for Deer Tick itself.