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The latest side-project from Deer Tick frontman (and ongoing lead of crazier, oft-frontal nudity oriented stage performances), John McCauley, the aptly titled Diamond Rugs - or, “I’m on drugs” (get it?!) – is, as expected, more of the same wildly catchy, impressively immoral folk rock.
I want the kinda hand I can look at and admire not a goofy little ball of flesh.
Featuring a collaboration between McCauley, his deer tick brothern Robbie Crowell, Ian St. Pe (The Black Lips), and members of Los Lbos, Dead Confederate, and Six Figure Satellite, the first record from this rag tag crew of southern ne’er do gooders offers more than I expected. That is, it sounded like another McCauley and a backing band job – not unlike half of his other, other side job with Middle Brother (which led a shared vocal title with members of Dawes). However, there’s a whole lot more layers to this record than meets the eye.
I want the kinda dog that listens when I call and pisses on my neighbors fence.
I mean, sure, we see plenty of the tried and true Deer Tick spirit coming through on a number of tracks (“Gimme a Beer” and “I Took Note” might as well be a b-side from the aforementioned act – and I mean that in the best way possible, they’re excellent), but there are others that are unlike anything ANY of the crew from Diamond Rugs plays on their day job. Maybe that’s just the feeling this record gives of: a bunch of dudes wanted to make a record together. There’s a good times vibe sewn throughout the 14 track, 45 minute spanning record.
I want the kina house I’ll sit down on the couch and say damn it feels good to be a gangster.
Standout tracks like “Blue Mountains” and “Call Girl Blues” are so simple and honky tonk inspired they’re a surefire stuck in your head tracks. Meanwhile, the lowly “Totally Lonesome” plays to an eerie kind of minimalist, coupled with a haunting voice that one could picture in some David Lynch desert road sequence. Then McCauley brings the album home with the final two tracks posing completely difference sentiments.
“Hungover and Horny” is kind of the embodiment of McCauley as a human being insofar as I’ve seen, read, heard from him. Remember, this is the guy who drank a bottle of JD on stage at Lee’s Palace before ending Deer Tick’s encore playing the guitar with an appendage surely not built for the six-string (also, ouch – chill, guy!). With an abrupt end, the act sings off with the saxophone laden ballad, “Christmas in a Chinese Restaurant”.
Lastly, “Country Mile” is a sweet, psych inducing track. It embodies a different times of trouble, unclear minds, simplicity, and – like all great album tracks – that dirty kind of unsung love. A keeper, surely.
With a drug reference in their name, well, the album fits true to the same form. There are a range of anecdotes, drunken nonsense, hangovers, sweet nothings, depression, blissful incapacity, and, in final, a sobering realization. The drug of choice is surely a matter of preference based on the eclectic group comprising Diamond Rugs, but it all works in near perfect, devil may care chaos.
Last week I had the fortune of seeing Deer Tick play to a sold out crowd at Lee’s Palace. The first time I saw them was at Bonnaroo this past summer and while they threw a great set, I was far too hot/tired/sweaty/irritable at the time to really enjoy them. So when we were offered passes to see them in Toronto, I was really looking forward to catching it with my full, undivided attention.
The band played a great combination of new and old. Favourites like “These Old Shoes“ and “Ashamed ”were perfectly paired with songs from the new album – some of which will definitely become standards in their live repertoire. John McCauley also invited Ian of the Black Lips on stage for some songs from their new side project, Diamond Rugs (Damn I Am On Drugs). It was a nice change of pace and a pretty cool opportunity to see something new with a totally different vibe from either the Black Lips or Deer Tick. They also slipped in a couple of covers including Tom Waits, the Replacements and (much to my disappointment) Nirvana – reviving their alter egos, Deervana.
A definite highlight from the new material was “Clownin’ Around“, a haunting song about John Wayne Gacy sung by the drummer rather than McCauley – a nice switch. Then, like, some terrible twist of fate I saw a clown on the weekend without his wig on. Have you ever seen a clown in full face paint without a wig? It was absolutely terrifying. Especially because he was roaming the streets alone on Sunday afternoon.
But, I digress.
My position was carefully selected between two great personalities of any larger venue show: the too-drunk guy and the douche bag. The former spent the majority of the show hanging off of his buddies while the entire crowd behind cheered for him to end his teasing and finally try and lay a kiss. He finally vanished into the depths of the crowd only to re-appear being carried by the bouncers. No one knows how his story ended.
The latter became known as “Beachcomber” and made himself recognizable for having mysterious stains in two perfect patches on his shoulder blades. After much deliberation, the consensus amongst the crowd was that it was Chef Boyardee sauce, although the actual shape of the pasta was never agreed upon (torn between Spongebob or Alphagetti). In reality it was likely blood which is way grosser.
The set had a triumphant finale with Let’s All Go To The Bar in which members of Gaurds and others stormed the stage to shoot off beer and chant the chorus. While it was great to see the song played with a huge supporting cast, the best part (and arguably the highlight of the night) was when lead singer, McCauley pulled his dick out and proceeded to finish the song by smacking it against his guitar. It was as awesome as it sounds.
As promised, the long awaited part II of our Songs & Cigarettes Fall Playlist.
Following in the same vein of its predecessor, this is to transition us into the great, grand, awful grasp of the cold. Our jackets are notably lighter than we might admit against the prickle of chill from this goddamn wind, and it is these tracks that are aimed to encourage those dwindling opportunities to walk under the crisp crunch of leaves – before we bundle up and buckle down for another three months. Take it in while it’s here folks, we are coming to the end times (Well, seasonally anyhow).
Deer Tick are a band very much rooted in their sound. With feet firmly planted – albeit under near constant changes in the lineup – the act has strayed very little from the path they set out with 2007′s War Elephant. That’s not to say they haven’t shown adventurous elements over the course of the three records that followed, but taken as a whole they’ve kept that unsung southern twang as a focal point to Deer Tick’s sound.
With the release of Divine Providence we find ourselves in similar pastures. Led by the impossible to mimic vocals of John J. McCauley III, Deer Tick’s fourth full length effort follows suit with a booze laden series of hurrahs and heartbreak through the hour and twenty minute spanning record.
While the first three tracks of Divine Providence are forgettable for the most part, the sheer haunting that is “Clownin’ Around” offers a side of the band that has rarely been explored in anything prior. Offering the most introspective lyrics on the record (which is a lot coming from an otherwise happy-go-drunken set of themes), the track shares indisputable connections to one John Wayne Gacy. Outside of connections to Chicago, lines such as “I let my house guests rest in my crawl space/don’t let anyone tell you I’m a bad host/ I take cover behind my white face paint / While I battle my bitter father’s ghost” only go to push the sheer eeriness of the song. Flexing their songwriting muscles, the track is oddly tragic. Even bittersweet by the time the crazed carnival music intercepts the slow and steady strums of chords. Again, the boys of Deer Tick are having fun with their listeners – where ghost stories and bar tales collide.
Further, this marks the first track in the band’s catalogue that isn’t sung under McCauley’s croons as drummer Dennis Ryan takes the lead. If there is anything to take from the album, it’s that Deer Tick isn’t just McCauley’s show – there is a whole lot of talent in voice and form behind him. Then again, with a quarter of the songs on Divine Providence fronted by everyone but McCauley, maybe this is the exploration they needed.
Outside of this standout track, however, the same Deer Tick sound returns. There is an effortless appeal to tracks like “Miss K”, particularly with lines like “wrap your drunken arms around me”, or the swing and shake worthy infectiousness of “Something to Brag About” that offer new layers to the previously mentioned signature sound of Deer Tick. Of course, that’s not to say Divine Providence is a bad record, it isn’t by a long shot – and there’s a reason I’ve had it in rotation for more than week. But, fans that might want something different, or are facing a need for something new might not find what they require here. Then again, the diehards and newbies will surely find something to appreciate here. Particularly for those with a penchant for the the charming, curt, and catchy country-like sound.
Hell, they do what they do well, why mess with a good thing?
In listening to the latest from Dawes – part of the Laurel Canyon sound hailing from the northern hills of Los Angeles – one can’t help but draw relaxed comparisons to the forefathers of old. Brimming with influences from the likes of Crosby, Stills, Nash and the Young one, the music is relaxed, soulful, and nothing shy of charming.
The band’s sophomore release, the confidently titled Nothing is Wrong follows similar formulas to the 2009 sleeper, hometown named, North Hills. Of course, the two years between albums were not spent in quiet recording studios across the American west; rather, constant touring, side-projects, and numerous television appearances (A jam out with Robbie Robertson and *gasp* The View notwithstanding) were just a few of the adventures undertaken by the four-piece between records.
Nothing is Wrong, by comparison, is a much less frenzied effort than frontman Taylor Goldsmith’s excellent side-project, Middle Brother. Sharing stage antics with John J. McCauley III and Matt Vasquez (of Deer Tick and Delta Spirit fame, respectively), the frantic, redneckery of the three-piece’s 2011 full length is much bolder than the slow, sincere crooning Nothing is Wrong boasts.
However, the stray from the their own beaten path is not without notice on the latest effort. While the same Dawes’ sound of slow paced ballads with a touch of organ and familiar tin and twangs from the strings are strong characters, the moments of pulse jumping tracks are not without appreciation. Of note, “The Way You Laugh” as an open love letter filled with metaphors and candid recollections is undeniably catchy – even with the less than comprehensible lyrics. Then again, maybe that’s the point. It’s not a letter for us after all.
Harmonies are at an all time strength (as one cannot deny when sat down in front of “How Far We’ve Come”), and lyrically Taylor has hit his stride as what could be one of the youngest and most talented frontmen in the American folk revival movement – jotting him up alongside sometimes on-stage collaborator Conor Oberst.
For those of us that have yet to find that well-needed bit of summer sound to take them through the remaining short months ahead, well, Dawes are a surefire bet. We spend all year waiting for the now and current, my friends, so how could we let anything wrong? Nothing is Wrong, and that sure as hell is good as gospel for a day like this.