Deer Tick – Born On Flag Day
Record Label: Partisan Records
Release Date: June 23, 2009
Joseph McCauley’s ruthlessly delivered vocals come loaded with country music’s past, and he’s not afraid to unleash the full extent of the genre’s emotional power. He sings, “Just let me be lonely tonight,” on “Little White Lies,” which seems to imply a certain sarcastic acceptance of his mournful state. It’s these moments of shattered reflection that make Born On Flag Day so intriguing. Instead of seeing ourselves, or more naively, seeing only what we want, we are treated to the cold steel of reality. McCauley is simply our misinformed narrator. His whiskey-ravaged vocals grate our ears while emboldening our souls. And to be honest, at times it’s hard to take, like during the violin-accompanied climax of “Smith Hill.” The lost love tale never becomes stale from cliché because McCauley finds imaginative ways to describe his pain: “So I fire that arrow into the great big sky / And I hope that it never comes down / Unless you’re coming with it.”
Forgive me for implying that Born On Flag Day is hard to take due to ill-conceived songs or, you know, general yuckiness. What I mean is that it’s a sad album. The album’s first half contains weeping harmonicas, alcohol-soaked downers and missed opportunities. It’s all very serious; Deer Tick are not Hank Williams JR. Then right when you start to worry about McCauley, he unleashes “Houston, TX”, a song that finally brings him from a dark bedroom to a lively porch. A playful acoustic guitar doodles in the background, McCauley sings of moving on and the whispery percussion pushes us out of our heartbroken stupor. (Is that the sun over there? Nope, just a liquor store.)
I imagine a Southern person coined the phrase, “Now we’re cooking with grease,” so it seems apt when describing “Straight into A Storm” and “Friday XIII.” (Note: The band is from the Northeast. Posers!) The former is lively but forgettable, but the latter is eerie in its dichotomy. A pretty young female joins McCauley (who sounds oddly distant when he pleads, “Won’t you please love me again?”) to create a sparse tale about the strains of, what else, relationships! Despite his inclination to sound like our grandparents, McCauley is clearly struggling to “get” life. He’s learning as he goes, and it seems Born On Flag Day is his way to create signposts in a topsy-turvy existence. It’s not easy growing up, but it’s especially hard when everyone expects you to have done it already.
So although Mr. McCauley can’t exactly lead me to fresh water, he can steer me away from the dirty stuff. It’s like he says on “Hell on Earth,” “Life is beautiful / But beauty is a dying art.” He recognizes the inconsistencies with what exists and what is in our heads, but he doesn’t know how to meld the two. I know it’s wrong to wish such an existence on a person. However, I also recognize the inherent beauty in his search for whatever it is we all search for. I sincerely wish the best for McCauley, well, only as long as the music doesn’t suffer.
Recommended If You Like: The Tallest Man on Earth, The Avett Brothers, forward motion, GARTH BROOKS OR SOMETHING WHO LISTENS TO COUNTRY ANYMORE?!, same shit different review
I bought this album and listened to it a couple of times, but I let my roommate borrow it and he never shuts the fuck up about it. He asks me questions about the band, stupid questions about their management and if I think they're legit. So in a way I kinda hate this band now just because of him.
then you and mr. mccauley have something in common!
Me and this band actually have two things in common now. My English teacher just informed me he had Dennis Ryan in class a couple years back. If my math is right (which it probably isn't), I was a freshman when Dennis was at my high school. I'm definitely considering trying to book them for a show at the school, that'd be sick.