The multi-sourced, multi-generational Diamond Rugs continue crafting smart, gritty rock
As was the case with Diamond Rugs’ 2012 self-titled debut record, much of the band’s sophomore album, Cosmetics, formed and grew in the studio. That’s an impressive feat, considering that Diamond Rugs is something of a weekender project for members of no fewer than five bands, all of whom keep moderate-to-ridiculous recording and touring schedules anyway. But to hear Diamond Rugs bassist (and Deer Tick keyboardist) Robbie Crowell tell it, there was never any question that Diamond Rugs was going to put out a second release. In fact, the band had Cosmetics on its minds more or less immediately after the first one.
“On the first record,” says Crowell, “we went in with no real game plan, just to see what would happen. But we wanted to make our second record pretty much right after we’d finished the first one.”
So, Cosmetics was a more tightly built LP than the first?
“No,” says Crowell. “We went at the second one more or less the same way.”
Never mind, then, however it happened. Cosmetics, like its predecessor, is a tight little stomper of a record, a cross-section of the kinds of music—the wildly diverse kinds of music—beloved by its members. Crowell’s Deer Tick bandmate John McCauley, who initiated the project three years ago, remains the de facto frontman and writer, while Ian St. Pé (Black Lips), T. Hardy Morris (Dead Confederate), Bryan Dufresne (Six Finger Satellite) and the legendary Steve Berlin (Los Lobos, Blasters and about six dozen other outfits) return to fill out what turns out, remarkably, to be an even deeper bench than the roster might suggest.
The talk turns to that depth pretty quickly, and when it does, Crowell has a lot of praise to pass around. “John … ” he says at one point, his voice fading off as he forms the thought. “That guy, he’s probably the most prolific songwriter I know. It seems like at any given time he’s got about two albums’ worth of songs ready to go. And Bryan—I mean, nobody plays drums like Bryan. It’s staggering.”
But to run down the passenger manifest, as Crowell does long and loud, won’t describe the music on the new record, which sounds consistently more controlled than Crowell’s narrative of the recording might suggest. The opening cut, “Voodoo Doll,” sets the tone: Clipped, tight percussion, just-this-side-of-sloppy vocals, Berlin’s deep saxophone honk and fuzzed-out, chunky guitar chords are the point of entry. On the surface, we’re talking about regular old, garden-variety, dirty-ass rock ‘n’ roll.
Yet, spin the album a few more times and the loose feel begins to separate out into recognizable patterns that could only come from a band whose members are ardent students of music, as well as professionals. The Buddy Holly-style rave-up of “Couldn’t Help It,” the Bo Diddley drumming of “Live And Shout It,” the overblown absurdist cock-rock lyrics on “Motel Room,” the wobbly keyboards on “Clean” (itself a traditional shimmery I-IV-V garage-rock wail, at least until the chorus approaches)—these are the moments that stand out on multiple listens.
It’s not that Cosmetics is a smarter album than Crowell’s pretending it is. It’s that this is a record made by smart musicians who also happen to love dirty-ass rock. And so the limitations of form and technology—including the fact that the album was recorded directly onto eight-track tape—didn’t constrain the band so much as point all of its wild, wooly energy in the studio toward smart, economical, funny directions.
Sometimes a little too funny: “You can’t be too reverent,” says Crowell, as we’re discussing the band’s deep love for a multiplicity of music. “I’ve got little patience with rock that takes itself too seriously. At the end of one of the takes of ‘Killin’ Time’—I’ve still got this on my laptop—at one point, John suddenly went into this weird Joe Cocker-style shout about reorganizing the spice rack. Steve (Berlin) is our sensei, our spirit animal, the one that tries to pull us back when we get too far out. But he loved it. No one loves that kind of thing more than Steve.”