Friday, April 27, 2012

Diamond Rugs Album Review

[Editor's Note:  As anyone who knows me even casually will tell you, I have strong opinions on music. It is a topic of deep philosophical interest for me. I love to debate it; to hear both sides of the same coin when it comes to a given band or album. My tendency to debate makes me prone to published music criticism. I've been a sucker for it since my teenage years. Where some kids wanted to be like Larry Bird, I secretly aspired to be David Fricke (likely because I was a slow and clumsy athlete). I am happy to report that, two decades later, my first bona fide Rock and Roll review has been published. My friend, local indie eminence Hardy Morris, kindly asked me to review the album from his new side project and I (nervously) agreed. The below review ran in this week's edition of the world famous Flagpole, Colorbearer of Athens, Georgia. You can see it on the Flagpole's website here. Special thanks to Music Editor Michelle Gilzenrat for lending me a little sliver of paper.]

The Diamond Rugs
Diamond Rugs
Partisan Records

In their eponymous debut, The Diamond Rugs -- John McCauley and Robbie Crowell (Deertick), local hero Hardy Morris (Dead Confederate), Ian St. Pe (The Black Lips), Steve Berlin (Los Lobos, not a misprint) and Bryan Dufrense (Six Finger Satellite) -- shoulder the tattered "supergroup" banner for indie bands everywhere. They're good enough to handle it. The result is a punchy collection of post-hardcore power pop that diverges from the artists' historical work just enough to keep things interesting. Morris reports that the album came together naturally. It shows. 
Any mystery about the sound is answered in the first 145 seconds with the superb St. Pe country punk, "Hightail"; think Buddy Holly after listening to the Ramones for two days. No time is wasted from there. The longest of the 14 tracks (the chaotic pedal steel infused buzz of Morris's "Country Mile") clocks in at 4:33, and half the songs are under 3 minutes. It's a concise piece of work. 

McCauley carries the majority of the vocal water. Deer Tick fans confused by the recent Divine Providence will be comforted to hear him in a more-listenable pop incarnation here. His propensity for lyrical laziness is present, with an overly repetitive focus on beer, women, or both ("I'm a kinda feeling, like a lion, or a tiger, listening to my baby purrrr" from the unfortunately-titled "Gimme a Beer;" the even more unfortunately titled "Hungover and Horny"); but when he's on—the irresistible brass-drenched Springsteenesque romp, "Call Girl Blues" or the verse-verse-verse coming-of-age mediation, "I Took Note"--you're smiling.   

Morris adds focused muscle to the proceedings. The taut march of his menacing "Motherland," complete with ethereal harmonica details, is an album highlight. He steers the new punk gallop of "Big God" like he's made a living in the genre. Most listeners will find this more accessible than his work with Dead Confederate.  

The presence of Berlin and Dufrense brings flourishes of instrumentation into the mix. Berlin's brass accents add authority to the biting "Tell Me Why," and a plaintive tone to (album lowlight) "Christmas in a Chinese Restaurant." Even an accordion shows up in the Gene Autry high plains drone of "Totally Lonely" (the album's endearing oddity).   

Who knows if there's a future here? For now, viva la "indie supergroup!"

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