The theme of 2023 seems to be established artists we've loved for years leveling up and making fantastic, mainstream albums. No band did that more than Deer Tick. Emotional Contracts sounds like Deer Tick decided they wanted to start headlining much bigger venues, and made a big rock record. Some of their previous album had that same feel, but Emotional Contracts feels much more earnest than some earlier attempts. That isn't meant as a knock on any of Deer Tick's previous releases. This one just sounds like it appeals to OG fans while opening the door as wide as possible for new ones.
While Deer Tick may not quite sound like Hank Williams meets Nirvana, both of those artists' roots are all over Emotional Contracts. A song like the Ian O'Neil fronted "Forgiving Ties" is nearly impossible to resist. It still has that twangy and slightly off-tuned guitar, but it's one of the most catchy songs of the year. One of the main appeals of this incarnation of Deer Tick is how much fun they are while still being smart and great music. Most rock music tends to be in two camps: Fun rock and rock for smart people. Emotional Contracts is both fun and smart enough to appeal to the average music fan and the judgmental hipster equally.
The best thing I can compare this album to is Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark," a song Deer Tick covered earlier this year. Springsteen turned in Born in the U.S.A., and his record label said they didn't hear an obvious single. They told Bruce to write a hit song, and he wrote "Dancing in the Dark" about being told to write a hit single. Not all songs being written to be hits are bad, and Emotional Contracts is full of them.
Songs of note: "If I Try to Leave," "Forgiving Ties," "If She Could Only See Me Now," "Once in a Lifetime"