Can a heavy guitar make you feel like you just stepped out of a natural hot spring? Apparently it can. Diamond Rugs is the musical equivalent of a modern Walt Whitman poem – if Whitman was actually a younger Bukowski with a little more sensitivity to the grander themes in things.
Historically, I have had a raging animosity toward bands that make new bands from old bands, using some members but not others, and then calling the new band something different, even though the music sounds essentially the same. All we’re left with is some new emblem that Angels & Airways can shine magnanimously over their drum kit at concerts like some absurd beacon without context. It’s exhausting, and for the most part this process seems like nothing more than an exercise in re-branding.
At first glance Diamond Rugs is such a band, in fact, an indie ‘supergroup’ by their own admission. Six guys from five different bands make up this sextet: John McCauley and Robbie Crowell (Deer Tick), Steve Berlin (Los Lobos), Ian Saint Pé (The Black Lips), Hardy Morris (Dead Confederate), and Bryan Dufresne (Six Finger Satellite). Originally, it was just supposed to McCauley, Saint Pé, and Dufresne but other interested parties ‘kept showing up’. These ‘interested parties’ are not just guys off the street; they are veterans who have already garnered critical acclaim in their respective careers. When asked what their intentions were when they started recording, they replied, “Just six guys in a recording studio recording what they felt like recording.’
The result is the cleanest album I’ve listened to in 2012, maybe ever. In fact, it is so clean that it literally cleansed my musical palette. How is it so purifying? Two reasons: first, the songs are built on the sturdy foundation of Crowell’s baseline and Dufrense’s drum work. Both run through the album like shining steel beams. And what do we know? The broader the base, the higher the tower, and with this hodgepodge gang of musically gifted misfits, Diamond Rugs is reaching for the top. Second, this album is Teflon for labels. Genres are not just bent or broken, they are literally non-existent, because this album was created in a different dimension where rules don’t apply and musicians are simply people who love to play instruments. No amount of branding could do this work justice, nor would it be welcomed. But what else can we expect from the brainchild of John McCauley?
I think one would be hard pressed to find someone in the music industry who doesn’t reference the personal ethos of John McCauley when discussing any of his many musical pursuits. For those of you who don’t know anything about him, he is the frontman of Deer Tick, and he is the quintessential rocker who doesn’t give a f*ck. The video for Christmas in a Chinese Restaurant, a song on this album, is just him sitting in a Chinese restaurant drawing on his face with a permanent marker. That guy walking down the street wearing a snorkel and the Saturday Night Fever polyester suit? Ya, that’s not just some random weirdo, it’s John out to get his groceries. He is unabashedly unpretentious – a quality that is sorely underrepresented in the music industry. This above all comes through in Diamond Rugs debut and self-titled album.
It’s not just John’s unassuming swagger that the band is osmosing from. McCauley, Saint Pé, and Hardy all share frontman duties, and all the members had a hand in writing and contributing to the integrity of this seamless reckless abandon. They even outsourced the absolving tone to other bands, covering Mandarin Dynasty’s I Took Note. With lyrics like, “I heard the albums/ I took note/ of all necessities to be an artist/ I closed my eyes…I gave up my name/ and potential fame/ ’cause I did not dig on the irony”, it is not hard to see why this album is like lemon sorbet, and your musically overwrought mind is the tongue.
Had a bad day? I have your medicinal anthem right here: Country Mile is guaranteed to cleanse your mood better than burning sage would banish demons from your split-level walk-up. And you don’t need to take the short stout woman’s word for it. She doesn’t need to tell you ‘this house is clear’; you’ll be able to feel it for yourself.
Tracks to Check Out:
I Took Note
Out On My Own
Diamond Rugs was recorded in NASA’s gravity vacuum. (Ok, that’s not true, but that’s the purest air I could think of.)