Surgeon General’s Warning: The music of Diamond Rugs is a potentially addictive substance and may be harmful to your health. Consult your doctor before listening.
That warning doesn’t actually grace the packaging of Diamond Rugs’ self-titled debut, but it sure as hell could if you’re the type to take songs to heart and pursue their joys with abandon. If that’s not you, why the hell are you listening to rock and roll anyway? Like many of the best things life has to offer, reckless enjoyment just may take years off your life; screw all the worrying though, if you desire a life worth living.
Diamond Rugs’ debut is a hard-grooving, rowdy, rock and roll treasure played with balls-to-the-wall, drunken energy from a deceptively tight, hardworking band. Whether done by icons like the late-‘60s Stones, The Replacements, or Guided By Voices, rock and roll will always need wild, brazen bands to give it a kick in the ass courtesy of youthful, hedonistic spirit and careless jumps off the wagon time and again. The bands that do this best have the power to renew your vows to rock and roll. They’re the guys who have you buying the entire bar a round after filling the juke with your hard-earned wages, blasting their party tunes for the uninitiated. On that note, cheers to Diamond Rugs, the new, reigning princes of fun, loud and dirty heartbreak-and-booze glory.
The band formed after Deer Tick frontman John McCauley went to a Los Lobos set in Nashville late last year. Los Lobos is a band McCauley has loved since he was a kid, and they were the first band he ever saw live. Upon meeting the band backstage, McCauley invited Steve Berlin (saxophone, keyboards) to collaborate on upcoming recordings. From there, McCauley corralled Ian St. Pe (Black Lips, guitar/vocals), Dead Confederate frontman Hardy Morris (guitar/vocals), Brian Dufresne (Six Finger Satellite, drums), and fellow Deer Tick member Robbie Crowell (bass) to form an official badass rock and roll machine.
Recorded to eight-track analog tape with producers Justin Collins and Adam Landry (Middle Brother, Deer Tick), Diamond Rugs captures a thrilling live sound that capitalizes on all the strengths and freewheeling personalities in the band. Diamond Rugs thrive on a raw sound that can pass for sloppy, and they champion a workingman ethic (St. Pe gets credit for the name’s origin, citing the incredibly expensive rugs that sit underfoot on the floor. As he told Paste on the night of the band’s inaugural gig, “…that’s where we all started from. Los Lobos is a hardworking band, Deer Tick is a hardworking band, the Black Lips, we’re a fucking hardworking band, and I just liked it because it’s on the floor, it’s where we started from.”)
As much as other reviews have been tempted to characterize Diamond Rugs as a new Deer Tick record, they’re off the mark. Sure, the kindred spirit of McCauley’s band is all over the album with the same classic influences, but this is the sound of a deep band writing songs off the cuff, playing their asses off, and catching fire to make a genuine Diamond Rugs record. Of the fourteen songs, McCauley sings on half, Morris takes the lead on four, St. Pe takes two, and producer Justin Collins lends a sturdy croon to “Totally Lonely,” a magnificent ballad that calls to mind Orbison down south of the border.
With four different guys taking lead over fourteen songs and most clocking in at an average of three minutes, Diamond Rugs is a series of instantly winning rock and roll blasts that get more indispensable on successive listens. The variations on lead vocals feel as fresh as jumping from Lennon to McCartney to Harrison, and the blend of styles ranging from ‘60s garage to jangling country to distortion-heavy swamp rock to grunge-punk guitar assaults make the record a mongrel work of bastardized beauty (like the sound of Diamond Rugs’ unofficial, anointed hometown of present day Nashville).
St. Pe’s leads, album opener “Hightail” and bouncy strip club ode “Blue Mountains,” are old-fashioned, chugging rockers with infectious choruses. “Hightail” finds St. Pe harnessing an Elvis-indebted drawl to sing, “My baby never really put her whole heart into it…I got problems but no more problems than any other man…I can’t believe my baby straight up and fled,” while a Sun Records-style backbeat and harmonica bring the song home. On “Blue Mountains,” he sings “seeing you just does that somethin’ / You’ve got yours, and, hell, I have got mine” to his preferred dancer, while a deliciously simple “da da da” melody gets lodged in your head.
Morris fronts the band on the majority of the heaviest songs of the album. “Country Mile” and “Motherland” are both volatile stompers that balance moody, swamp rock worthy of Dead Confederate with accomplished country riding pedal steel and garage jangle worthy of Sticky Fingers and Let It Bleed. “Big God” leans more towards explosive grunge with smart tempo changes, a badass solo and a minefield of rhythm section freakouts. “100 Sheets” is a dirty, lo-fi gem that feels like it could belong on any of the four sides of Exile on Main St.
As always, McCauley’s songs veer towards The Replacements territory with unhinged, gritty rockers and an earnest and devastating tears-in-his-beer ballad to close out the album. McCauley is a man who never forgets how to use his shredded voice to his greatest advantage, and singing about substances, heartache, days of toil, and nights of boozing allows him to shine in spades.
If there is a theme to the fourteen songs of Diamond Rugs, it’s the workingman’s life celebrated and mourned with booze, depending on where he is in relation to the woman in his life (or presence). McCauley’s songs make such a theme abundantly clear on “Hungover and Horny,” “Gimme a Beer,” “Call Girl Blues,” and “Christmas in a Chinese Restaurant.” Yes, McCauley (and Diamond Rugs) love to sing about beer, but it’s usually a means to an end to make a point about love, heartbreak, or discontent. On “Gimme a Beer,” McCauley rips through an everyman’s list of wishes that could make his life more rewarding (“I want the kind of car where my stereo is better and the damn thing’s not falling apart,” “I want the girl / she can dance, she can twirl when going out at night with her friends,” “I want the kind of dog who will listen when I call and pisses on my neighbor’s fence”) before groaning, “Uh, who cares?” and simply settling for “Gimme a Beer.” The beer is the direct response to the realization that all of those desirable things probably won’t make the guy happy anyways. He knows he’s better off just drinking up and having a good ol’ time.
On the horn-driven “Call Girl Blues,” McCauley sings, “She ain’t yours / You can’t hold her / You can’t love her / She ain’t yours,” and “Hungover and Horny” finds him lamenting loneliness and morning anguish by singing, “Hungover and horny / I’m going to explode / I’m hard as a rock / Baby, please come home / If you don’t come home, I don’t come at all.” If there was ever a doubt of McCauley’s adoration for The Replacements and ZZ Top, “Hungover and Horny” brings it to the surface as well as anything he’s ever done. McCauley shows his considerable range by seguing from the raunchy anguish of that song into the sparse, emotional isolation of “Christmas in a Chinese Restaurant.” Thematically, they both juggle being separated from a woman and the aftermath of hitting the bottle, but Diamond Rugs pulls each off superbly to wildly different effects.
The short of Diamond Rugs is it’s the sound of a versatile rock and roll band at the top of its game playing loud, rambunctious songs about women and beer that are every bit as timeless as like-minded songs done by the band’s heroes. Simply put, it’s one of my favorite albums of the year, and it hasn’t been out of heavy rotation since I got it. Diamond Rugs is a killer rock and roll record without an expiration date, and it will go on to be one of the best and most enduring records released in all of 2012.
Diamond Rugs is out now via Partisan Records.
Stream: Diamond Rugs – Diamond Rugs
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