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Deer Tick Demonstrates Its Ambition And Range On 2 New Albums


This is FRESH AIR. It's been three years since the last release from the Rhode Island band Deer Tick. The quartet is back with two new albums titled "Deer Tick, Vol. 1" and "Deer Tick, Vol. 2." The first is mostly quiet, the second, mostly loud. And rock critic Ken Tucker says both have songs well worth paying attention to.


JOHN MCCAULEY: (Singing) Afraid to say that you need a jumpstarting - anything to get you off of that cross. If you feel like your friends are parting, I can be your rock.

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: I care is the key phrase in the refrain John McCauley sings on that Deer Trick take song called "Jumpstarting." For a guy who spent a good part of his band's career doing his best to act like a party animal who doesn't care, we must take this as a step forward in emotional maturity. These two new Deer Tick albums may separate in terms of volume. The electric guitar from the song I just played is from "Vol. 2," the loud one. But they're united in certain themes. Take, for example, the more quiet "Vol. 1," where the song "Cocktail" elaborates on the caring side of McCauley.


MCCAULEY: (Singing) I started missing the days where as soon as I'd wake, I'd make a cocktail. I'd spend the time that you took giving me dirty looks with my cocktail. And just like every love affair on the fogged tin my armor shows, on the bullet shot full of hope. And I get a little green. I could be dancing on one leg and enjoying the masquerade. Well, I'm not making any lemonade, but I got lemons if you need.

TUCKER: "Cocktail" is an engagingly ambivalent song about emotional sobriety, as John McCauley wonders whether being alert and present for his friends in trouble or in despair is worth experiencing their pain. It's a notion he picks up again in "Don't Hurt" as he hazards a guess as to who's going to help him when he's hurting.


MCCAULEY: (Singing) I'm not sure if I'm entitled to anything I feel. The only friends that I can trust are my Ford's spinning wheels. One more curve, maybe it won't to find you in my way. Forget my face. I'm just a name, a smile by mistake. So I hurt in your long and quiet hours. If I bite, all my wounds are tasting sour.

TUCKER: With two albums of ten songs each, there's room for band members other than McCauley to offer some welcomed new ideas. Deer Tick began as a solo project from McCauley. But over the years, the three other members have demonstrated how essential they are. In 2011, drummer Dennis Ryan wrote and sang the prettiest song on the album "Divine Providence." Now on "Vol. 1," he's given us another high point, "Me And My Man" about the romance of male friendship and more.


DENNIS RYAN: (Singing) Me and my man goes walking around the block. Me and my man ain't got time to stop and talk, got too many games to play. Oh, boy, my man looks after me. Me and my man, me and my main man, me and my man, me and my main man running fast - catch us if you can.

TUCKER: The largely acoustic "Vol. 1" has a number of lovely melodies. But overall, I'd have to give the edge to "Vol. 2" where Ryan's pounding drums and the band's thundering guitars and electric piano send the music hurdling along with an urgent intensity. On "It's A Whale," McCauley's echo-off-the-wall squawk reminds me of early-period Alice Cooper, as does the song's satiric lyric about rock star proclamations of martyrdom and living on borrowed time.


MCCAULEY: (Singing) Heading nowhere with the last of my kind. I'm a martyr, and I live on borrowed time. And I'm fine. Hey.

TUCKER: Frontman John McCauley is no longer content to merely bellow and shred his vocal chords. He's hitting the notes. More significantly, Deer Tick has become a more cohesive band. If the motive behind putting out two albums with contrasting volumes was intended as a demonstration of ambition and range, well, mission accomplished.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic-at-large for Yahoo TV. He reviewed the new album "Deer Tick, Vol. 1" and "Deer, Tick Vol. 2." Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, Candice Millard will talk about her new book about the young Winston Churchill. I hope you'll join us.


GROSS: Fresh Air's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our associate producer of digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Therese Madden directed today's show. I'm Terry Gross.


MCCAULEY: (Singing) Can you believe what he did to himself - spent tiny fortunes on powder and pills. And I know you wanted to have it some other way. Cut it out. Get the keys. Let me stay. Way up under this mountain of scum, we look up at the strangers above. And I know you wanted to have it some other way. Cut it out. Get the car. Let me stay. Well, I've been looking at the black top waiting for you. Well, you can't understand it. You can't handle that I was having a good time while you were having a hard time. But you were having a good time, too. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ken Tucker reviews rock, country, hip-hop and pop music for Fresh Air. He is a cultural critic who has been the editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly, and a film critic for New York Magazine. His work has won two National Magazine Awards and two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards. He has written book reviews for The New York Times Book Review and other publications.