Release Date: Sep 24, 2013
Record label: Arts & Crafts
Genre(s): Country, Americana, Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Indie Folk
A lot has happened to John McCauley since Deer Tick’s last effort in 2011. The singer/guitarist saw his father head to the Big House, called off his engagement and partied excessively, leading to a dark foray into drugs and alcohol. Despite his personal maladies, the one thing McCauley can be counted on is to draw inspiration from his personal despair.
Deer Tick's 2011 album Divine Providence was a raucous, drunken affair, with songs of barroom debauchery that seemed more like exaggerated character sketches than autobiographical snippets from main songwriter John J. McCauley's life experience. While the band's life on the road has probably resulted in some legitimate hard-living, hard-drinking times, the presentation was just a little too emphatic.
It’s been a few years now since Deer Tick lead singer John McCauley and his former fiancé, Those Darlins’ Nikki Darlin, split, but if Negativity is any indication, the wounds are still fresh. “I didn’t write about it for a couple of years. I just kind of blocked it out. But I guess I started examining my feelings.
What do you do when, in the space of a year, your father is imprisoned for tax fraud and you break up with your fiancée? If you’re John McCauley, you gather up your alt.country band and write a new album. But while ‘Negativity’ is an apt word to describe the impact of the events that inspired Deer Tick’s fifth full-length, it’s not an overwhelmingly dark record. It offers up a series of triumphs over adversity, such as the whimsical ‘In Our Time’, featuring Vanessa Carlton, and the grungy plod of ‘Pot Of Gold’ with its feral Kurt Cobain screams.
John McCauley is a workaholic – if you call being a boozy, (formerly) crack-smokin' alt-rock star work. Slotted between side projects, his main crew's latest is a reckoning after 2011's unhinged Divine Providence. Tight songs flash their roots: "Thyme" echoes Screamin' Jay Hawkins' sexy menace; "In Our Time" (with Vanessa Carlton) recalls the battle-hardened duets of Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty.
Deer Tick have grown. After a slew of alcohol-drenched offerings big on chaos and low on introspection, the Rhode Island alt-country outlaws' fifth album is a leap forward musically and emotionally. Songs are focused, multi-layered and crafted, sometimes even bringing Wilco's more experimental moments to mind. But does maturity suit Deer Tick? John McCauley's voice - still rough and badass - sometimes fails to settle in with the elegant orchestration, and now and then his stabs at sincerity come off as clichéd (Just Friends, Hey Doll).
Deer Tick has forever been torn between wayward adolescence and thoughtful introspection. On the one hand, the Providence outfit has an unquenchable appetite for a boozy, drug-riddled good time, which while fun shouldn’t take away from the fact that frontman John McCauley can write open, heart-on-sleeve rockers and ballads with just about anyone in his musical neighborhood. It’s the fascinating Jekyll and Hyde dichotomy that defines Deer Tick, that of a bunch of dudes who are just as prone to puking their way through an interview as they are crafting music touched with the kind of world-weary wisdom that extends far beyond their years.
Deer Tick’s 2008 album War Elephant presented a disparate and promising set of ideas the best of which cohered effectively on the following year’s Born on Flag Day. Both hard-driven and crafted, that 2009 offering conveyed the sense of purpose and direction that presented John McCauley’s songwriting skills to full effect. The Providence R.I. band’s live performances had brought a confidence that never teetered into arrogance.
A pretty strong step away from their freewheeling last record (Divine Providence), Deer Tick’s fifth and latest offering is a tad darker and surprisingly personal compared to earlier efforts. The result is ultimately a stronger album, but it takes a little time to get to the good stuff. The album for this Rhode Island band, led by John McCauley, was written during a particularly dark time for the frontman.