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Deer Tick

Divine Providence

Rating: 3.0/5.0

Label: Partisan Records

With three prior albums of country-rock under their belts, Deer Tick use their latest release to thumb their noses at the uptight and the falsely pious. The album title itself, Divine Providence, is a pun on the band’s hometown, as John McCauley and his revolving troupe of supporting instrumentalists extol drinkin’ and lovin’ and other sinful behaviors like it’s 1973.

This may not be the best time, politically, for the beginning of this album. Occupy Wall Street protesters, shaking off the stereotype that young people are lazy, immature, binge-drinking and apathetic, need more than a bunch of party songs with brazen lyrics like, “We’re full grown men/ but we act like kids” or repetitions of “Let’s all go to the bar!” Similarly, “Clownin’ Around,” a song about the inevitable lethal injection for a lifelong villain-to-be, gives the impression of being deaf to the recent and highly controversial execution of Troy Davis in Georgia. Of course, when the songs were written, the band couldn’t have predicted the sudden demise of the slacker twentysomething, but if they had, would they have done anything on this album differently? In some vague terms, “Chevy Express” condemns corporate greed, racism, entitlement and war, opting instead for the moldy walls of a co-op farmhouse and kicking off a series of catchier and less politically tone-deaf songs.

Opting out continues as a theme on “Walking Out That Door,” and of the ensuing ballads, the over-the-top sentimentality and tense harmonies of “Now It’s Your Turn” are much less cloying than the repetitive “Make Believe.” Album closer and lead single “Miss K.” transcends labels like “sweet” and “vaguely obscene,” capturing that particular, youthful conflation of romance and sex in a poppy vocal line and simple acoustic guitar. For some reason, the song is followed by 20 minutes of silence before an ode to cigarettes set to the tune of “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.” Besides being inconvenient to iPod enthusiasts everywhere, it is set to the tune of “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.” I’m not a smoker, but I am enough of a sucker for advertising to still think cigarettes are cool. This song is not cool.

One of Deer Tick’s signature sounds, its furious guitar riffs are pure rock ‘n’ roll. They sing to McCauley’s melodies and provide an engine to keep pace with quick lyrics. To some extent, their distorted snarls can barely be distinguished from McCauley’s own voice. A grinding rhythm guitar sharpens the edge on “Funny Word” when the lyrics are otherwise downright silly. So uncool they’re cool again, a dueling guitar duet energizes “Something to Brag About.” Such moments of bombast highlight the restraint of “Main Street,” a reflective tune about changing small towns and a barren political landscape. Strumming sparingly, Ian O’Neil’s guitar mirrors McCauley’s lonely voice.

Three of the 13 tracks feature vocals other than McCauley’s. Drummer Dennis Ryan and O’Neil have fine voices and their inclusion suggests that McCauley may be solidifying his band’s lineup. However, McCauley shouldn’t pretend his distinctive growl isn’t elemental to the Deer Tick sound. Instrumental solos would be better features for his colleagues.

With Divine Providence, Deer Tick are making a strong push to be that friend, the one who talks incessantly about partying hard and getting wasted even though you’ve seen them ears-deep in the trash after trying to walk that walk. They talk about social issues just enough to convince you they’re not stupid. You think they drink too much and their confidence might grate at times, but you like them anyway because, goddammit, they know how to have a good time.

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