It's been four long years since the release of Deer Tick's 2013 LP Negativity, an intermission in which lead singer and primary lyricist John McCauley admits that the band considered calling it quits. A lot changed in those four years: each member of the band got married; McCauley had a daughter; and Donald Trump controls the world's largest military — what a ride. Thankfully, the band's penchant for writing inimitable folk-punk (or is it punk-folk?) has not waned since their last release.
Let's be clear: Deer Tick Vol. 1 and Deer Tick Vol. 2 are not two parts of a double album; although released on the same day, they are two distinct but complementary albums highlighting their binary talents. Recorded in Memphis's Ardent Studios, Vol. 1 is a ten-track collection of acoustic songs, while Vol. 2 collects ten electric songs. The band share songwriting duties, with drummer Dennis Ryan and guitarist Ian O'Neil — who have supplied songs in the past (see "Clownin' Around," "The Dream's in the Ditch") — contributing two and three songs, respectively, with another written by both with McCauley ("Mr. Nothing Gets Worse").
Longtime fans steeling themselves for disappointment should have their fears assuaged by opening track "Sea of Clouds," which sounds like it could have been a cut off of 2007's War Elephant, and will be reminded of why they fell in love with songs like "Ashamed" in the first place. McCauley's voice is as good as ever and his distinct nasal twang complements the coarseness of his honest lyrics as the song shifts from a thoughtful Nick Drake-like guitar progression into a tumbling bass-y bridge, and emerges unscathed on the other side.
Unpretentious and unpolished, Deer Tick continue to confront the rigours of life with unapologetic candidness on both volumes here. Reflections on drinking and sobriety are targeted frequently as the members of the group enter a more mature life stage. Vol. 1's "Cocktail" features a crooning McCauley doing a slight Jimmy Buffett impression and confessing his complicated relationship with booze: "I started missing the days where as soon as I'd wake I'd make a cocktail / I spent the time that you took, giving me dirty looks with my cocktail." Similarly, Vol. 2's "Look How Clean I Am," written and sung by O'Neil, mocks the trend of social media users boasting about how healthy and superior they are for being sober: "You're swimming in sobriety, I guess I missed the boat / To feeling unproductive, with nothing on TV / I'm looking up a restaurant to wallow in publicity."
Offsetting the snarky takes are compassionate songs like the supportive, Brit-rock tinged "Jumpstarting" and the beautiful bar room anthem "Hope is Big," where McCauley's unmistakable voice lifts up the increasingly visible O'Neil for a swinging and extremely sing-able chorus.
Deer Tick are so wonderfully straightforward and stripped of all self-importance that Deer Tick Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 manage to make up for lost time without compromising any of the acute writing or boisterous energy the band are known for. The records aren't epic returns to form that beg to be lauded; rather, they feel like four guys remembering how much fun it is to make good music. (Partisan)