Mark Grassick of Deer Park clearly has a good address book. The eponymous debut record by this Anglo-Irish four-piece was produced by Paul Hollingsworth and mastered by Billy Stull (Okkervil River, Centro-matic, Midlake, Shearwater). It features appearances from Mark Hamilton of Woodpigeon, Tom Lewis of Stagecoach and Paul Megna of The Oxygen Ponies. The album cover illustration is from artist Julie Miller (worked with Centro-matic and South San Gabriel) and the whole package was put together by ex-Sub-Pop’s art director and illustrator Jesse Le Doux (responsible for The Shins’ Chutes Too Narrow). However this self-released debut is more than simply the product of good connections and second-hand inspiration.
‘Sounds like: Bottled Misery’ says the band’s Myspace page. This self-description and that list of contributors and collaborators hint at the world-weary, wide-screen and whisky-soaked sounds of Deer Park. But they don’t reveal the variety, depth or the quality of music on offer. Even within the first three songs, Deer Park moves with ease from the confessional misery-blues of ‘Decanonised Saints’ (think Conor Oberst) to the tense punkish roots-rock 'n' roll of ‘Just Because We’re Running’ (think The Hold Steady).
The well-worn Americana genre is respected (if not revered) but given an injection of feisty Irish swagger or a literate, melancholic dose of Catholic guilt and despair. Or sometimes both in the same song – see ‘Your Future Is All Used Up’. In a sprightly but deeply satisfying 32 minutes, these ten songs touch on saints, J Edgar Hoover, Spanish movies, Elmore Leonard novels, escape, loss and redemption, fitting in along the way a last-drink-of-the evening bar-room duet with Randi Russo (‘My Drunkard, My Navigator’) and closing with the final cathartic intensity of ‘Nails’. Highly, highly recommended.