Deer Tick, the alt-country rock outfit hailing from Providence, R.I., has turned over a new leaf since the self-destructive, drug-soaked hymns found in 2011’s album “Divine Providence”. The party is over and the aspirin won’t help. Deer Tick’s latest album, “Negativity,” is the caustic morning light to lead singer John McCauley’s, opaque late night tales of unappeasable partying and forsaken self-loathing.
The opening track, ‘The Rock,” paints a picture of McCauley’s failed relationship with ex fiancé, Nikki Darlin, displaying that his wounds are still wide open. Starting off with bells that sound like a music box losing speed the song swells into a symphony of percussive bass and swinging horns to complement McCauley’s coarse howl. Right off the bat, listeners will have a strong indication of the album’s dark lyrical content.
Despite the album’s somber subject matter, the band slips in a few melodic tunes to keep fans singing along. “The Dreams in the Ditch,” written by guitarist Ian O’Neil, is a memorable number about the frustrations of being a traveling musician and the unyielding demands of the music business.
The best song on the album is the bouncy country tune, “In Our Time”—a duet featuring McCauley’s new girlfriend, Vanessa Carlton. Yes, the same Vanessa Carlton whom once flooded the airwaves in the early 2000’s with the suburban tween anthem, “A Thousand Miles.” One of the lyrically stronger songs the record, “In Our Time” tells the story of a stale relationship held together by the nostalgia of their younger days.
Musically, the band has cleaned up around the edges and become tighter as a group. It is clear that “Negativity” strays away from Deer Tick’s past four albums, showcasing their musicianship more than ever.
Tampering with R&B and psychedelic elements throughout the album, Deer Tick toys with broadening their horizons towards a fresh sound. Lyrically, for the first time McCauley writes of facing his vices instead of falling back on them.
If you’re expecting this album to be the soundtrack to future weekends of excessive drinking, however, prepare to be disappointed. “Negativity” is a retrospective look the self-indulgent sins that failed to rectify any of McCauley’s personal problems. Long time Deer Tick fans will recognize that this is not their best album, nor is it their worst by any means. After a handful of listens, the musicianship remains much appreciated and the lyrics remain impressive. Negativity is a nice addition to the rest of the Deer Tick discography.