[SINEWY ROCK] Deer or the Doe should probably receive some sort of cultural grant for keeping '90s underground rock alive and well in Portland well over a decade past its heyday. Then again, it may be too late for that.
On the local quintet's new album, Tonight We Love You, the group's '90s fetish ducks and weaves, only occasionally landing a hard right hook: The two-minute "Descriptions" is a punky twist on Yo La Tengo's "Sugarcube," and every bit as sonically complex; the brilliant "Sorrow to Shallow" reminds of Rainer Maria or early Hazel.
What emerges more often here is a newly layered approach that de-emphasizes the angular guitar of DOTD's past efforts in favor of a thicker and juicier sound. Even vocally, the band has grown more playful: Keyboardist/vocalist Cassie Neth can be almost Nico-esque in delivering the band's semi-abstract lyrics, while guitarist/vocalist Aaron Miller is a more forceful student of post-punk.
So integral are the vocalists to DOTD's driving sound that I find myself skipping two perfectly lovely instrumental tracks, "Invitation" and "Interlude." Those songs seem determined to prove that DOTD is capable of more than just balls-out, Fugazi-esque post-punk, but it's a point the band made early on shoegazey opening track "Cartoon Eyes." In a city in desperate need of smart rock music with real bite, this band never really needed to prove anything, but the album's strong final suite still makes a nice argument for DOTD's relevance (though the anthemic "Coeur D'Alene," the most lyrically revealing track in the collection, probably should have been the set-ender). Granted, I'm a relic of the '90s, but Deer or the Doe has added some nice little tricks to its repertoire these past few years, arriving at a place that's at once sentimental and vital—and, thankfully, more than a little rock 'n' roll.
SEE IT: Deer or the Doe plays Mississippi Studios, 3939 N Mississippi Ave., on Thursday, May 31, with Radiation City and Point Juncture, WA. 9 pm. $6 advance, $8 day of show. 21+.