Deer Tick’s alt-country vibe becomes clunky, clumsy

Henry Clayton Wickham

Deer Tick’s rough alt-country sound has always had an in-your-face quality to it. In past albums, the group has skillfully alternated between sincere, scratchy folk and those bitter country romps where boozy front man John McCauley really lets loose.

In its latest effort, the band has tossed that formula and abandoned its folk side for a rowdier sound. Unfortunately, it sounds more unhinged than unleashed. With Divine Providence, Deer Tick’s raw directness has turned clunky and uncomplicated.

The first track, “The Bump,” sets the tone for the record. This unoriginal tune features two techniques overused in this album: rock ‘n’ roll piano and bar room phrasing. “Let’s All Go To the Bar,” sounds promising at first, but that’s only because it comes in like “I Wanna Be Sedated” by the Ramones. Fortunately, things are uphill from there.

“Main Street,” features some of the band’s old sonic grunge and has interesting, angsty lyrics. Unlike the first three tracks, “Chevy Express” isn’t obnoxious, but it isn’t very interesting either and the rest of the album continues along these lines with some exceptions. In “Something to Brag About,” Deer Tick re-attempts a Ramones-inspired country punk tune, this time with success. Like “Something to Brag About,” the last track “Miss K” is catchy. It has an upbeat charm that’s lacking in the rest of the album.

The worst thing about Divine Providence is the stupid soundbites in some of the songs. Like the drunken banter and burping at the end of “Let’s All Go To the Bar:” “Who’s nasty? I am! Let’s go get drunk!”

One of the great things about Deer Tick’s past albums was the way McCauley’s scratchy-sweet voice and thoughtful lyrics sculpted a dark and serious sound laced with moments of hope. In Divine Providence, there’s almost no hope and little seriousness either. With clumsy songs such as “The Bump” and folk ballads such as “Electric,” it’s the frying pan or the fire. The band never finds its stride in this album. Still, it is a great live act with a strong repertoire of older work and well worth seeing tonight at Emo’s.

Printed on Tuesday, October 25, 2011 as: Deer Tick gets rowdy on album