Photographers: Christopher Dale Ryan; Ian O'Neil; Laura Partain.
The simply titled Vol. 2 is the second of Deer Tick's two simultaneously released albums cut at Memphis' Ardent Studios. Whereas the first volume centered on more acoustically driven fare and provided listeners with John McCauley's introspective songwriting amid (mostly) imaginative arrangements, this set represents the louder, prouder, more ragged garage rock side of Deer Tick's persona, the one most fans hear when they tour.
The songwriting is a little more democratic on Vol. 2, though McCauley still writes the lion's share. It kicks off in a rockist 4/4 with "Don't Hurt," whose combination of hook, distorted guitars, off-kilter lead break, and a seemingly Paul Westerberg-inspired lyric stands out as one of the disc's best. By turns, the hook in "Jumpstarting" could have come straight from the Replacements fakebook -- meaning it's right in line with the best of what Deer Tick have always offered. Unlike literally hundreds of other bands who've tried the same thing, these guys from Rhode Island not only get it, but can do something of their own with it. The early Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers-esque rolling rock stroll in "Look How Clean I Am" is a paean to sweating out ingested toxins with ironic but unrelenting grit, while the less-than-three-minute "The Whale" is ragged punk rock goodness. "Tiny Fortunes" (detailing another drug abuser) is a galloping rocker with cascading Jerry Lee Lewis-style piano and punchy Southern rock guitars. "S.M.F." (Shitty Music Festival) is hilarious. The band's snark about the sometimes contentious relationships between musicians and fans -- particularly when both are inebriated -- is brutally honest and underscored by the naked aggression that pours out of the music. While the melancholy instrumental "Pulse" is an outlier with its wafting blue-jazz saxophone, acoustic piano, and loungey shuffle, it introduces the punked-up boogie of "Mr. Nothing Gets Worse," a swaggering, snarling number that should make its subject feel a hell of a lot better, and rattles the rafters for the rest of us. Unlike Vol. 1, which ran out of steam during its last third, Vol. 2 keeps its momentum from beginning to end, clattering and shambling through its 33 minutes without a false step. While both records ultimately make for an interesting project, if you have to choose, pick the latter -- you'll listen to it far more often. ~ Thom Jurek