In a time when every other conversation seems to revolve around the United States’ inevitably doomed economy, it’s nice to have a band like Deer Tick. From a fan’s eye, John McCauley — the frontman and mastermind of the group — is living the American Dream. Back in 2004, when he was merely 19, the aspiring artist convinced his parents to allow him to skip college and focus on music. They obliged, and Deer Tick began to tour relentlessly and at the same time produce a incredible amount of music — in both quality and quantity, ranging from party, bar sing-a-longs to ballads full of heartbreak and despair. In short, he’s kept his end of the deal.
With the group’s latest venture, Divine Providence, it’s as if the band members are giving one collective middle finger to anybody who has tried to define their sound over their career. From the album’s launch point, a coke-fueled anthem called “The Bump,” McCauley’s growl sets the tone: “We’re full grown men / but we act like kids,” he proclaims over Replacements-esque guitars and drum stomps. Deer Tick doesn’t care what anybody wants it to be. Deer Tick just wants to have fun and play music as loud it possible can. And what makes that sound work, despite its obvious sloppiness at times, is as if the band is self-aware. Perhaps McCauley and company got together and said, “Hey, you think we’re an alt-country band? You think we’re a Nirvana cover band? You think we’re a folk band? Well, fuck you, we’re doing whatever the hell we want.” And when they can agree to what they want, Deer Tick create a wonderful yet reckless and whimsical sound, found on tracks like “Main Street,” “Clownin’ Around” or the lead single, “Miss K.” But when the band can’t seem to agree, that “do whatever the hell we want” attitude makes them falter. Songs such as “Let’s All Go To The Bar” or “Something To Brag About” both are a little too flat and one note, and it’s too obvious that the band is trying too hard to be different.
But when the album succeeds, it soars. A common thread in Deer Tick’s discography is that their albums may not be the best cohesively, but each has a number of tracks that stick out. And usually, the ones that aren’t as great on the record recover during the band’s always-raucous, loud live performances. Divine Providence is the group’s best album to date, but doesn’t necessarily have its best songs to date. But as these grown men who act like kids figure out what they want to do, they’ll only get better.