Deer Tick – The Black Dirt Sessions – (Partisan Records)

Album Reviews, Artists, Deer Tick, Features, Music — By on July 9, 2010 4:44 pm

Listening to Deer Tick’s third studio album, The Black Dirt Sessions, will undoubtedly pose the question: can I tolerate this vocal? You love it or hate it. Though, if you hate it, you’ll learn to love it. The classic instrumentation of these haunting tunes insists upon it. The actual recording quality of the album is superb, but it retains the charm of a lo-fi mix.

It begins with “Choir of Angels,” a lingering resonance of many songs before, a fitting choice for the first tune. It leads in with a very traditional beat, underlined with the tones of a wobbly, but unwavering organ. Then, a dubbed two-part harmony chants the opening verse with a mildly sweet sentiment:

“Sing choir of angels
Sing through the night
I’ll be still
I’ll be quiet…”

As the album moves forward you’re convinced that the 24 year old lead singer, John McCauley, must have lived at least two lives before; an old soul that’s no stranger to sorrow.

The third track, “Goodbye, Dear Friend” is the highlight of the record. I expect to hear it attached to film sometime in the near future. The howling, tattered voice over the solo thud of a piano is just enough to truthfully capture the suffering and affliction of mourning a loved one. This haunting song has a gorgeous melody and it unmistakably proves McCauley’s ability as a songwriter and storyteller:

“…but you carry on
in pictures and in song
and the unmade bed you slept in
where I laid you down to rest one last time…”

The female vocal in “The Sad Sun” isn’t much to write home about. The girly voice is intimate and sweet, but is just too contrasting with the grungy grizzly bear behind. However, the matched male harmony in “When She Comes Home” is an exceptional sound. One thing’s for sure, this band has no intentions of conforming to a single genre.

This record is a smorgasbord of sounds ranging from reverb-soaked surf guitar as in “Blood Moon” to grandma’s old upright piano in the reprised version of “Christ Jesus.”

This album is a great experience, but an acquired taste. Maybe it’s the
obvious, dirty Cobain-esque strain over clean melodies that leave us bewildered? Sometimes we just expect a distorted guitar. This album creates the feeling of being really pissed off, but at church. It deserves a listen.

Much like an actual deer tick, this album will grow on you.

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