Deer Tick slowly burrows into my scalp and bleeds me dry on Black Dirt Sessions [Album Review]

by oz on July 1, 2010

Let’s be honest. HearYa has lost some mojo since that Jill Andrews live session. I found that someone close to me is very sick, then took a business trip to California, and then back to a shitstorm at the office and sleepless nights at home with a toddler and newborn. I’ve been in a vegetative state every night and weekend. Very little time or inspiration to blog. I admittedly checked out.

My cure for the burnout? I detached from music for a few days and then dove into Deer Tick’s latest album The Black Dirt Sessions. Somehow it always feels good to hear someone worse off than you. Sadistic? Maybe. Cathartic? Absolutely. My hope is that founding member and songwriter of Deer Tick, John McCauley, isn’t as bad off as The Black Dirt Sessions may indicate, but one thing is for sure. The man has had some life experiences that inspired a very dark record laced with themes of death.

“Choir Of Angels” sets the stage for McCualey’s ominous exploration.

Sing choir of angels
Sing through the night
I’ll be still, I’ll be quiet
They took my body
And they robbed me blind
There’s no turning back now
And no use in crying
Every lonely road is behind me

You get the picture. It’s the start of an album with very few bright emotional moments, but incredible songwriting and impassioned vocals. After “Twenty Miles,” you’ll hear “Goodbye, Dear Friend,” a song that’s hard to move beyond. It’s a beautiful ode to a friend with nothing more than a piano to carry the words:

Some roads that you take
Some bones will choose to break
Well I swore I’d no longer be the pallbearer
Well I carried you to bed
So you could rest your head

Then later:

But you will carry on
In pictures and songs
And the unmade bed you slept in
Where I laid you down to rest one last time
Goodbye, dear friend
Goodbye, dear friend

McCauley’s vocals are a perfect accompaniment for the lyrics and themes on Black Dirt. He sounds weathered, broken down, angry, and desperate. This desperation comes into full view on the on the closing track, “Christ Jesus.” It’s another piano ballad that finds McCauley suffering. Pleading. Begging for salvation. The “Christ Jesus” scream at 3:48 and the album’s abrupt ending says it all. Finality.

Deer Tick were clearly not going for mainstream appeal on their third album, which could explain their performance of a song from their debut album on a recent Letterman appearance. The Black Dirt Sessions is a hard album to immediately embrace, but for me it has unfolded and revealed itself over several weeks. I appreciate the change in songwriting direction and the integrity in their music. I find it better then it’s predecessor, but not as great as their spectacular debut.

I continue to think back to a drunken night at SxSW when I found myself standing side-by-side with John at the Lucero Family Picnic party, struggling to strike up a sensible conversation. If I had heard this album prior to that moment, I’d have probably given him a big hug and a slurring “I love you, man.” I’m thankful the album arrived weeks later.

Deer Tick – 20 Miles

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Woody July 1, 2010 at 9:59 am

I am also glad you didn’t have the album at SxSW as I was standing next to you at the time. Then I would have wrapped my arms around both of you and it would have gotten a little weird.

The album is a textbook definition of a creeper album. At first listen you’re kind of dissapointed. Then you go back b/c you really liked their previous efforts – it’s a little bit better, then finally you embrace it like a burrito at 4AM and fully appreciate everything it is about.

Chris P. July 1, 2010 at 12:15 pm

Well put, thankfully Deer Tick does not kill your stomach the next day. Oz, best of luck…

Ben July 1, 2010 at 9:58 pm

Johnny Tickhead and Co heal the soul.

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