Digging Up Treasure: Deer Tick
”Digging Up Treasure” is the name of a new segment that will allow me to bubble over with the joy of finding a relatively unknown and very exciting new band. The title of the segment becomes even more clever when you realize that it’s underground music I’m talking about. Digging? Underground? Treasure? Get it? Okay, that’s enough.
Hailing from Providence, Rhode Island, Deer Tick is the brainchild of singer/songwriter John McCauley, rounded out by drummer Dennis Ryan and bassist Chris Ryan. Their debut album, War Elephant came out a couple weeks ago, released on FEOW Records. In the three weeks since then, I’ve scarcely been able to go a day without spinning at least a track or two; theirs is the kind of music that’s difficult to get out of your head—and not in the “I have this song stuck in my head” sort of way. It’s the kind of immediate, intelligent music that makes you wonder, when compared to McCauley, how terribly inadequate you are at expressing yourself, and how damn alive you feel in his presence.
McCauley’s expressiveness is, after all, Deer Tick’s defining characteristic. Dude’s got a voice like sandpaper and he doesn’t hesitate for a moment before rubbing it all over your face. And with a presence that’s so very… well, present, lines like “I’m caught in a whirlwind / I’m going to heaven / I’m standing on trial / and it’s painted on canvas / an eternal testament to how we are so animalistic” adopt an emotional weight that’s impossible to ignore. McCauley’s tortured performance on the epic “Christ Jesus” is the alt-country aspiration to Jeff Mangum’s impossibly high In the Aeroplane standard.
The music on which this remarkable expression rests is strong, often embracing that unstoppable alt-county sense of movement that makes it perfect for long drives and deep thoughts while at the same time using that forward motion to keep it from overwhelming or stagnating. But, within these bounds, the music boasts quite a range, from the road-trip shuffle of “Art Isn’t Real (City of Sin)” to the Neil Young-infused “Standing at the Threshold” to the subtle reggae of “Baltimore Blues No. 1”.
The song’s closing track (“What Kind of Fool Am I?”) is the oddest of the bunch, a down-tempo fifties pop number that you could easily imagine reworked by Phil Spector. It witnesses McCauley’s apparent inability to fall in love, his desire to abandon all things cerebral and become the kind of fool that is capable of such an irrational sentiment. But it’s exactly that kind of thought and analysis that prevents him from becoming that fool and what, in the end, makes this album so interesting. What McCauley has painted is a picture of a world totally aware of its own foolishness and the conflict that arises when presented with the choice to remain blissfully ignorant or to face the truth, however harsh it may be.
Deer Tick - Standing at the Threshold [mp3]
Deer Tick - These Old Shoes [mp3]
Deer Tick - Christ Jesus [mp3]
War Elephant is available now from FEOW Records.