The shortlist of pop musicians who've released two different albums on the same day is quite short; it gets even shorter when tallying how few have actually pulled it off -- arguably none. Deer Tick tries the same thing with Deer Tick, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. The first disc focuses on the band's more acoustic and rootsy side (with some warm psychedelic effects woven in for texture) while the latter boasts the ragged garage rock most often heard in their live performances. What unites them is that they were cut at Memphis' famed Ardent Studios, where both consistency and immediacy, experimentation and rough-hewn magic, are all part of its justified reputation as a revered locale. Of the pair, Vol. 1 is the most interesting lyrically, but it's uneven -- even boring at times -- musically, particularly in the last third. John McCauley wrote all but two songs. His topics range from the satisfactions of family life to actively chasing ghosts and falling into despair. Opener "Sea of Clouds," with its weave of acoustic guitars and Mellotron, churns and wanders through the ashes of a previous relationship seeking clues -- long after it matters -- as to why it ended. The use of both bolero and flamenco in "Card House" marks the disc's most original and adventurous moment. Deer Tick have neither rhythm down; they stumble and stagger through them, but McCauley's unrepentantly brazen lyric walks sturdily despite his nasally whine. Ian O'Neil's "Hope Is Big" is a Celtic-tinged, honky tonk waltz drenched in the irony and reasonable emulation of the world-weary yet humorous lyric style employed by Tom Waits in his early years. Hinge track "Only Love" weds electric piano to acoustic guitars in what would be a lament, save for the wisdom in its lyric: "It's only love, so don't be afraid/It will let you down, but not today/It won't let you down until tomorrow...." "Cocktail"'s melody comes right out of the Doug Sahm songbook (though the jazzy country piano could have been played by Charlie Rich); McCauley's look back at his boorish boozing behavior while pining over lost love at the same time makes for one of the set's funniest tracks (intentionally or not). Not everything works, however. While the loopy roots rock of Dennis Ryan's "Me and My Man" (which juxtaposes Warren Zevon's bizarre darkness with Lou Reed's aberrant use of New York-style doo wop choruses and a Ventures-esque guitar break) would have made an excellent closer, but the album doesn't end there and, unfortunately, becomes morose. From "End of the World" on out, the record runs on an increasing mope factor: Melodies are almost absent and skeletal, and uninteresting arrangements pale in comparison to the earlier songs. (One can't help but wonder whether a different sequence might have avoided this.) While Vol. 1 feels like a companion to Negativity, its best moments utilize healthy irony rather than mere self-confession and elevates it -- in spite of its missteps -- as a result.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek