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John McCauley and Deer Tick have long walked a tightwire between total despair and fractured resilience, but Negativity represents a heroic leap forward on virtually all fronts for the Providence, Rhode Island-based band.
Recorded earlier this year in Portland, Oregon with legendary producer/musician Steve Berlin (The Blasters, Los Lobos, and last year’s McCauley side project, Diamond Rugs), the album –Deer Tick's fifth full-length studio release, and follow-up to 2011’s acclaimed Divine Providence – is McCauley’s most personal work thus far as well as the band’s most undeniable and universal, their famously freewheeling musical approach refined here into a gloriously cohesive whole.
Negativity was penned over the course of a genuinely eventful 2012, an annus horribilus in which McCauley’s father pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiracy and tax fraud, ultimately leading to prison. “Mr. Sticks” – which takes its title from the senior McCauley’s childhood nickname – is “about my father going to jail and all the things he may miss,” but when the son sings “With a hug and a kiss/You may say goodbye to all you've ever known,” you get the sense he might be talking to himself.
For if that seemingly untenable situation weren’t enough, McCauley’s own personal life was equally shambolic, his notoriously excessive behavior and impossible lifestyle escalating to the point where his imminent wedding engagement was finally called off. Like any true artist, he channeled the anger, melancholy, and regret into his work, resulting in what can be safely declared his finest collection of songs to date, impassioned and interior and increasingly mature, both as expression of emotion as well as pure unadulterated songcraft.