For the entire span of their career, Rhode Island folk rockers Deer Tick has been of two minds. With their latest project, Deer Tick Vol. 1 & Vol. 2, the gritty Americana darlings have molded a double barrel shotgun that compartmentalizes both sectors of the band’s musical aspirations: that of a familial front porch acoustic folk rock jam session (Vol. 1) and that of a gnarled, unapologetic East Coast dive bar act (Vol. 2). The result is a statement of purpose for the band, bridging the divide between the styles and demonstrating how seamlessly they work to build upon one another.
In the four years since the band’s last album was released, John J. McCauley has cleaned up and become a father, which he addresses directly on “Look How Clean I Am.” Maturation can be felt throughout the production of the album, which isn’t nearly as raw or grimy as we’ve come to expect from the band. This pep carries over into optimism in the face of certain defeat on songs like “Hope is Big” (“Hope is big, but we’re always gonna lose”) and “Only Love” (“It’s only love / Don’t be afraid / It will let you down / But not today). The record continuously preaches the importance of the fight, rather than the victory.
Perhaps the singular driving force behind Deer Tick Vol. 1 & Vol. 2 is a tremendous sense of brotherhood. This is true thematically, but the record also sees McCauley forfeiting the microphone to his bandmates on tracks like “Me and My Man” and “Tiny Fortunes,” culminating with the project’s final track, “Mr. Nothing Gets Worse,” which finds the players taking turns singing the verses. It’s no secret that John McCauley longs to follow in the footsteps of Paul Westerberg, an idol he wears enthusiastically on his sleeve, and this song pays grateful homage to The Replacements.
There are missteps on the album, sure, but they are overshadowed by the triumphant moments in which the band slips into what they know best. It helps that they are pulling from influences that they clearly adore, such as the early work Neil Young (“Sea of Clouds,” “Hope is Big”) and the disgruntled energy of 1990s alternative rock (“It’s a Whale,” “Sloppy,” “Wants/Needs”). The boys also step outside their comfort zone, taking a bit of a sonic leap with the inclusion of a saxophone (“Limp Right Back,” “Pulse,” “Mr. Nothing Gets Worse”).
While it is being released as two separate records, Deer Tick Vol. 1 & Vol. 2 is probably best enjoyed when seen as a double album. Even the covers feature the exact same image; it is only the color of the frame holding it that has been altered. Listeners may feel the somewhat natural urge to choose favorites between iterations of the band, but they truly are dual sides of the same coin, and they feed off one another to realize a complete vision of Deer Tick’s trademark aesthetic. The project is simultaneously the most ambitious and the most vulnerable effort we’ve seen from the band thus far, and it proudly announces that they aren’t afraid to continue to evolve.