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The introspective rock dude: Deer Tick and Bill Callahan revive the (much-needed) archetype

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What happened to the introspective rock dude? It seems strange that there should be a shortage of them. Maybe it’s even stranger to complain about it. After all, hasn’t this type long dominated the indie scene? And aren’t Drake and Kanye West ruminating enough for everybody right now? And yet it’s disappointing how little soul searching man bands are up for these days. The Arctic Monkeys, first heralded in large part for their thoughtful lyrics, just broke into the top 10 with a new album more focused on macho riffage. Vampire Weekend, who hit number one (again) earlier this year, were never ones to brood. And Justin Vernon of Bon Iver is now serving heaping scoops of doggerel (like “sexing all your parliament”) with Volcano Choir.

John Mayer’s one of the few guys rooting around in his feelings as a project, but what he turns up on his recent album reveals an acute case of “nice guy” syndrome. Paradise Valley is gentle, inviting, even poetic—until it becomes petulant and entitled, as on “Dear Marie,” where a former teen flame is informed, with exquisitely sensitive condescension, “I got my dream—but you got family.”

The real white knights have only just arrived, and no, you shouldn’t actually think of them that way. Last week Bill Callahan (formerly known as Smog)  released Dream River, the fourth album under his own name. This week Deer Tick delivered their fifth one, Negativity. Callahan and Deer Tick’s singer John McCauley have a few things in common: A love—or at least a fondness for evoking—Americana; a precision-tuned sense of self-awareness; and a profound lack of concern for what other people might think of as cheesy—like unleashing flute and saxophone solos, or lines like “all I want to do is make love to you” and “a baby cries, and an old man dies.”

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