The debut of a loosely assembled supergroup side project has the initial benefit of listener curiosity on its side. When Deer Tick's John McCauley teamed up with highly respected Los Lobos saxophonist/utility man Steve Berlin in 2011 to work on a potential solo album, it definitely seemed like something worth checking out. As the story goes, McCauley rounded up a group of friends from bands like the Black Lips, Dead Confederate, and Six Finger Satellite to back him up, and the good-time rock & roll beerfest that quickly ensued at Nashville's Playground Sound Studio ensured that it would no longer be a side project, but a legitimate band. Their raucous 2012 self-titled debut as Diamond Rugs had as much to do with Berlin, guitarists Ian Saint Pé and Hardy Morris, bassist Robbie Crowell, and drummer Bryan Dufresne as McCauley. Hoping for another lightning strike, or at the very least another fun lost weekend, Saint Pé and Dufresne reconvened the band in the summer of 2014 for another round at the same studio with the same lineup. Like its predecessor, Cosmetics has the sort of boozy, off-the-cuff swagger that quality musicians can give to this kind of part-time project. But, with a little history now between them, the chemistry here is more apparent and the sound a bit beefier. Standout tracks like "Couldn't Help It" and "Live and Shout It" are garage pop gems with hooks for days. Berlin's horn stacks on tracks like the lead single "Thunk" and the low, menacing "Meant to Be" feel like a big brick wall of tone and attitude. As with their debut, Cosmetics never takes itself too seriously and some of the tracks, particularly on the album's second half, sound like fun if slightly forgettable, garage bangers. In general though, the highlights here are higher, proving that this second effort was one worth making.
by Timothy Monger