Release Date: Apr 24, 2012
Record label: Partisan
Genre(s): Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Lo-Fi, Garage Rock Revival
From the first hit of the drum on “Hightail,” it is instantly clear that John McCauley’s indie-rock supergroup experiment is a success. Pulling from his own band Deer Tick as well as Black Lips, Los Lobos, Dead Confederate and Six Finger Satellite, McCauley’s ragtag sextet strips rock down to the basics: raw voices, vulgar lyrics, heavy guitars, loud drums and one essential organ. This ain’t no Chickenfoot; this is the really really real deal.
The phrase “indie supergroup” gets bandied about a fair amount these days, pretty much any time musicians from one relatively well-known band decide to get together and cut some tracks with the members of another, most likely also well-known outfit. Never mind that “indie supergroup” is more than a slight oxymoron, but the label—and the fervor of fans expecting to hear what amounts to a mash-up of their favorite artists—often obscures its true nature: Most of the time they’re just a bunch of musicians who share a similar interest, enjoy playing together (see: Monsters of Folk, Wild Flag, Jack White and any person who can carry a tune) and who want to explore some new territory that’s not dictated by their day jobs. The Diamond Rugs, on their self-titled debut for Partisan Records, fit this last description perfectly.
The debut album from Diamond Rugs started out as a solo project from John McCauley of Deer Tick, but after he recruited a curious but intriguing lineup of musicians and they started playing together in the studio, he found out he wasn't the only one on hand with ideas for songs. After listening to the album, it's not hard to imagine that this revelation was prompted by a certain amount of liquid refreshment; most of the best and most enjoyable songs on Diamond Rugs involve getting drunk, and the playing has the loose and loopy feel of a jam session where the players were up for just about anything after a few beers. The musicians on Diamond Rugs are good enough to make these performances sound potent and emphatic, with Ian Saint Pe of the Black Lips and Hardy Morris of Dead Confederate on guitars, Steve Berlin of Los Lobos on sax and keys, Robbie Crowell of Deer Tick on bass, and Bryan Dufresne of Six Finger Satellite behind the drums.
There’s a scruffy, liquored-up swagger to Diamond Rugs’ debut album, which might as well have been recorded during an all-night jam session in Hollywood Town Hall, fueled by a molotov cocktail of whiskey, bong hits and a collective appreciation for Sticky Fingers’ faster tracks. John McCauley, frontman of Deer Tick and one third of the singer/songwriter supergroup Middle Brother, is clearly the captain here, but he lets his bandmates take the wheel often, a wise move when you’re fronting a lineup comprised of members from Los Lobos, Dead Confederate, Black Lips and Six Finger Satellite. So, even though Deer Tick’s punky, yowling take on hillbilly country-rock is a close relative to Diamond Rugs’ own sound, it’s more of a first cousin than an identical twin, and the few songs that deviate from the Deer Tick template are some of the album’s most enjoyable.
Among the six members of Diamond Rugs are two folk from country-tinged, alt-rock types Deer Tick, and Black Lips guitarist Ian St Pé. The resultant album is exactly what you’d expect from this mix of personnel – all the gravelly vocals and dirt-track Americana of the former, plus an injection of hedonistic playfulness from the latter. Thus we get a garage-country number called ‘Gimme A Beer’, plus ‘Out On My Own’ (a dropout version of Tom Petty’s ‘I Won’t Back Down’) and closer ‘Christmas In A Chinese Restaurant’ which, yep, is actually a genuine Christmas song.
If Deer Tick frontman John McCauley wants to build a side career informed largely by the second disc of the Replacement odds ‘n’ sods collection All For Nothing—ya know, the disc with all the b-sides and drunken cover tunes—then I say we let him. Especially if the results are going to be as fun as both 2011’s Middle Brother (with the dudes from Dawes and Delta Spirit) and now Diamond Rugs (with seemingly everyone else). Granted, Deer Tick travels this road as well—I’m thinking of Divine Providence‘s “Let’s All Go to the Bar”—but McCauley’s carousing rabble-rouser persona feels more apropos in these comparatively tossed-off projects.
Drunk-punk supergroup Diamond Rugs counts members from Deer Tick, Black Lips, Los Lobos, Dead Confederate, and Six Finger Satellite. Really, though, they’re just a new Deer Tick, with John J. McCauley III taking the most rocking parts of Divine Providence to the Nth degree for the band’s self-titled debut. Surprisingly, that’s a compliment to this band of hard-drinkin’ rockers.
If you're a fan of Deer Tick, you certainly don't need a lot of convincing to check out Diamond Rugs, but if you're amongst those of us who view the unapologetically likkered-up Providence band to be intolerable but redeemable, this might spark your curiosity as well. After all, collaboration is the closest we'll probably get to intervention for a group who has no incentive to alter its behavior: Deer Tick's star has risen in a manner directly proportional to their willingness to get as ornery about abusing alcohol and women as possible, and their most mean-spirited record to date (2011's Divine Providence) ended up getting them more "spirit of rock'n'roll" praise than ever. So while prime Deer Tick songwriters John McCauley and Robbie Crowell ultimately play a heavy role here, there are guest spots from better bands which make a ton of sense (Ian St.
Rawkus supergroups drawn together primarily for a good time now include Diamond Rugs. That's to be expected from the prolific and ornery mind of Deer Tick's John McCauley, teamed with members of Black Lips, Dead Confederate, Six Finger Satellite, and Steve Berlin from Los Lobos. The surprise isn't that their eponymous debut LP turned out terrific, but that it got made at all.
Most supergroups involve a bunch of dudes sidestepping their regular day jobs and having shedloads of fun, right? Look at Atoms for Peace. They all got blazed whilst listening to Nigerian artist Fela Kuti. Then there’s Mister Heavenly who had a right old knees up on their doo-wop infused debut album. Add Diamond Rugs to that list.