Deer Tick Do it All and Do it Well with Vol. 1 & Vol. 2

By the mid-2000s my mother had trained all my loved ones to know that the Easy Default Gift for Young Tim was a $10 dollar iTunes gift card. Maybe $25 for a birthday or Christmas.

I was entranced by iTunes “Recommended for You” algorithm, a bunch of code that drew me down the countless side streets of rock—I’d budget in $.99 increments, trying to stretch my digital cash as far as I could. That’s how I first heard the Hold Steady, the Minutemen, and the Replacements FAR before I knew anyone who had even heard of those bands, never mind gave a damn about them. For the myriad evils and industry cratering effects of digital music and streaming, it’s hard to argue against the raw glory of there always being another band you’ve never heard before.

That’s where Deer Tick have always existed for me—just on the periphery. Another band I might like. For some reason or another, I just never gave them a fair shake. I went in cold with their latest, the eponymous Vol. 1 and Vol. 2.

Anyway, shit, man—it turns out they’re really good! Don’t you love when that happens?

Let’s cut to quick—Vol. 1 is the acoustic record, and Vol. 2 is a rock ‘n’ roll operation. This approach is a bold move—it’s a lazy trope, but double albums are generally (and [usually] rightly) perceived as an exercise in indulgence that would benefit from some editing, much like this sentence.

Honestly, that’s probably the case here too—but thanks to the craft on display I don’t mind the excess so much. Dancing between genres and sentiments with grace, the band still sidesteps the pitfall of phoning anything in. If scale is ever a problem, it’s because there are plenty of great songs tucked between a smattering of really good ones, and the breadth of the two volume approach makes for undeniably pleasant listening that feels comprehensive, if not cohesive.

Recorded at the legendary Ardent Studios of Memphis, Tennessee, things naturally sound fantastic right out of the gate. This is a great band in a great room. Lead single “Sea of Clouds” is all ragged vocals and acoustic guitars that ripple across the stereo spectrum like heat coming off of a highway. “Card House” rides an off-kilter groove that balances perfectly against syrupy vocal harmonies and rich string work.

Vol.2 kicks off with “Don’t Hurt,” wasting exactly no time in establishing the band’s new tonal pallette—fuzz guitar and organ mingle gleefully over swaggering drums. The band remains in that gear for most of their second act, and if you’re looking to hear a rock band do big rock songs, you’ll walk away satisfied.

I love that Deer Tick closes this fairly kaleidoscopic effort out on an upbeat note, with the deceptively titled “Mr. Nothing Gets Worse.” You know, I have absolutely no idea what the song is about, but it’s because I’m always distracted by the sound—it’s all rollicking good-vibe guitars, pass-the-mic antics and ripshit sax solos, and I love it.

Ultimately, that’s the best reason to recommend Deer Tick’s Vol. 1 and Vol. 2—it’s the sound of a fantastic band doing everything they can think of, and doing it well. If you open it up and look around awhile, odds are you’ll find something to love too.

Vol 1. and Vol 2. are both out today on Partisan Records.

Great Grandpa’s Plastic Cough is Familiar in Unfamiliar Times

If you’re anything like most Americans (or, y’know, fans of civilization) these days, your mood probably swings wildly between blinding, bitter disgust, full-blown existential terror and the sense of being a burned out human husk with increasingly distant memories of a time when the future didn’t seem like something you needed to be terrified of.

The notion that we were gonna get through 2016, dust ourselves off and snap right back into a time before Everything Sucked Forever didn’t play out exactly how we hoped, huh? The world turns, people get born, people get dead, and there’s all that shit that goes on in between. But there’s a newly pervasive gallows humor that’s soaked into everyday life, since, well, how else are you gonna deal?

All this is to say that when Great Grandpa vocalist Alex Menne murmurs “All my friends are almost dead,” a minute or so into “All Things Must Behave” from their new LP Plastic Cough, you’ll get where she’s coming from.

The Seattle group is comprised of Menne, guitarist/vocalist Patrick Goodwin, bassist Carrie Miller, drummer Cam LaFlam, and guitarist Dylan Hanwright. Plastic Cough is a collection of songs that careen wildly from cautiously optimistic to burnout blues at about the same pace as the collective conscience of rational people who simply don’t want the world to end.

Menne’s voice has been rightfully compared to Speedy Ortiz’s Sadie Dupuis (a compliment of the highest order), and really, the comparison is apt for most of the band’s offerings here—an array of gleefully bludgeoning fuzz riffs and strategically deployed dissonance. The production isn’t necessarily slick—it’s gently hazy, which imbues the upbeat but sinister shamble pop of singles “Teen Challenge” and “Expert Eraser” with a just-holding-together vibe that makes the band’s underlying pop sensibility all the more staggering.

Those tracks are catchy and fun, but standout track and second single “Fade” is something different altogether. Goodwin and Hanwright alternate between interlocking tapped melodic lines and slamming choruses while Menne puts on a contemporary rock vocal clinic. It’s a showcase for the entire band, but LaFlam and Miller deserve special notice for their ability to keep a groove, no matter how rollercoaster-like the arrangements get. There’s not a bass slide or snare crack out of place in the entire thing.

“[Fade] is about “the dulling of pleasure that comes with repeated exposure to the same experiences, locations, persons, etc. and the small ways in which we struggle — and often fail — to find newness,” the band told The FADER. “It’s the feeling of knowing you need to make a change but not being sure where to start, constantly looking for the next rush.” Sound familiar?

At the risk of spoiling the ending, if you can make it through “28 J’S L8R” without at least a hint of a smile on your face, well, maybe we are lost. In a world where everything means everything all the time and most of that meaning ends up being godawful, a song that’s funny and dumb feels like a desperately needed envoy from the world I want to live in.

It also feels familiar, and that gives me hope.

Plastic Cough is out today on Double Double Whammy.

A Few Words on the Subject

Sitting here present day, considering all of the world’s issues or movements, if you will, and I can’t help but feel inundated. I admit that I have not watched the KONY 2012 video, paid much attention to the Treyvon Martin controversy or even vested myself much in this year’s election. I feel overwhelmed instead of outraged. I don’t think I need to give myself up to something. I don’t think it’s complacency either. I just want nothing to do with the flood of information that’s coming my way.

It’s become unpopular to rest in the margins and take this in as a casual observer. Yes, I’m aware of what’s happening in my world, but I’m choosing not to be a part of it. I don’t think that makes me like everyone else. Listening to myself more then ever is not a bad thing. It’s the unpopular thing. I like to learn. But I never like to do it from one source. I’m a firm believer that the best thing you can do is educate yourself from a variety of sources. To never be too trusting of one outlet is the best thing you can do for yourself.

We’ve hit this saturation point where opinion becomes fact when it’s wrapped up in an aesthetically pleasing package. News outlets rely on us to do their jobs for them through social media. How many times have you seen news networks encourage viewers to send in their ‘iReports’ or some other similarly-named submissions? It’s a disrespect to the profession that I went to school for.

Opinion becomes fact rather quickly when it’s wrapped up in an aesthetically pleasing package. I just wish more people paid attention to that. Everything seems to matter now, and we’re all expected to ACT NOW when something outrageous happens. Who has the time for it all? Excuse me for sounding selfish, but having my hands in everything is something I wish I had the capacity for. It’s a burden I cannot bear, at least for now.

Blank

Today was not much of a day worth writing about. I saw “The Artist”, a modern silent film that didn’t do much to impress me, and I followed that up by watching football. That’s about it.

At least there’s something here, right? It still counts!

Some Sort of Magical Thinking

Death is not easy to talk about. It never has been for me. It’s scary. It’s final.

I have death anxiety. Severe. There are extended periods of time (ie: the winter, bad break-ups) where I’m completely preoccupied with ‘the end’, obsessed by the idea that it may be right around the corner. Will my next step be the wrong one? I’m superstitious. I’m extremely paranoid. I’m not comfortable writing any of this right now, because I feel like something bad will happen to me.

The other day I stood outside The Dakota at the corner of West 72nd and Central Park West, gazing up at the top. It’s an imposing building with it’s gargoyles and gothic architecture, but in a way, it’s wickedly beautiful. I visit often because I’m a big Beatles fan. It’s where John Lennon lived. It’s also where John Lennon died.

As I looked at the archway – that archway, I imagined what it must have been like that balmy Monday night – December 8, 1980, Lennon walking out of his limo and through the archway before a man stepped out of the shadows fired gunshots into him. He probably had no idea what happened. Did he feel them? Was he sure they were gunshots? Did he experience pain? Could he feel death coming? Just minutes later, it was all over. Gone forever.

Exactly four years and 356 days later, I was born. My first breath came that long after his last. It’s stunning to think that these people live their entire lives before others are born. I mean, this has been happening for thousands of years. It’s just a weird thing to think about.. Why do I think this about John Lennon? I don’t know. There’s something personal about his death, so unfair and sudden that even those who didn’t even exist when he lived can feel that injustice on such a visceral level.

That brings me to the book I just read. A book about death. Real death. Personal suffering. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion.

Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne were two renowned authors who worked and lived together for nearly 40 years. They mostly worked together, were close confidants and aided each other in their writing process. Throughout their time together, they had one daughter, Quintana. Sometime in 2003, Quintana became gravely ill and ended up in a coma. This is essentially where the book begins.

On the night of December 30, 2003 the couple returned home from the hospital. As Didion began to prepare dinner, Dunne suffered a fatal heart attack. Within seconds, Didion’s life is changed forever. She loses her confidant. Her daughter is gravely ill, and she’s right in the middle of it.

This detail of the story should be compelling enough to make it a book worth reading. What surprised me the most was the clarity Didion recalls this year. Her process of grieving. Trying to come to terms with her husband’s death while she needs to tend to her very sick daughter. It seems insurmountable. But she finds a way to do it.

What’s special about this book is that It’s free of melodrama and self-help anecdotes – instead, there’s a plainness to it. Crisp, clear and direct. She doesn’t want sympathy and doesn’t provide the reader the opportunity to feel bad for her. This is her life. This is her experience. This is how she is dealing with it. Cut and dry.

The Year of Magical Thinking made me feel better about dying. Of course it’s going to happen to me. It will continue to happen around me as the years go by until it’s my time. What I learned from Didion is this: You must keep on. You must persist. If you don’t, you’re doing just as well as those that are already gone.