Out on a recent birthday celebration over at The Wonder Bar, I had the distinct pleasure of conversing with Christine Feola. Feola is the hottest up-and-coming go-to girl when it comes to locating and promoting fresh events and unconventionally great bands. One of the acts that Christine suggested I come see was Sparta, New Jersey, transplants Deal Casino. Yes, I know they’ve been covered extensively in the area, but for whatever the reason, I’ve never had a chance to usher them into Shoreworld territory, until now.
Named after the famed beach community that boasted membership from guys like movie theater king Walter Reed and Genovese crime family underboss Willie Moretti, Deal Casino are as streamlined and mysterious as their name implies.
The band recorded two EPs at various times last year, including Cocaine Love and The Runaways EP. Mixing raw, confessional lyrics with the spirit of space-rock tradition, Deal Casino compose vast and picturesque music along the lines of bands such as Arcade Fire and Klaxons. They utilize stark, carefully chosen arrangements to convey their specific brand of artistic desolation, and their compositional insight is pulling in droves of new fans that are seeking more truth and less flash.
The band is an explosive live act, ramping up and tearing around the stage as if possessed. Deal Casino is a group that connects on all important levels. When you put a disc into your player, you’re getting the same performance as you’ll experience at a live show, and to me, that’s where the money shot always ends up. Featuring a traditionally fixed four-piece lineup, Deal Casino put their faith in their fingers, tearing up electric necks as ground rattling bass and drums herald musical movement and interlude into the section of each raucous song.
Their latest musical projects, Cocaine Love and The Runaways EP, were recorded by Erik Kase Romero and produced by Jon Leidersdorf over at Lake House Recording Studios in Asbury Park. Lake House is a room born to churn out top-notch quality, and their assistance is a true complement to a band that has done due diligence when it comes to their directional homework.
Listening to The Runaways EP, I came up with some interesting discoveries and thoughts on the band’s writing and arrangement process.
“Hurricane” shimmers into existence supported by the chimey, bell-toned electrics of Jozii and the dynamically-charged vocal work of Joe Parella. Parella reminds me of Matchbox 20 singer Rob Thomas at times, relying on a powerful and effective range that can switch on a dime for each section needs. And he also has that Chris Martin lilt, which only adds to the compositional color that this group possesses. From the very first note, “Hurricane” commands attention, engulfing the listener with a stormy, step-by-step potency that explodes into one of the catchiest choruses I’ve heard in some time. If Deal Casino were a producer, they would be Sergio Leone or Martin Scorsese. Their imaginative pre-chorus set-up is expansive and lush, focusing the listener’s anticipation on the next roller coaster dip into the song’s memorable chugging sector. The middle-eight swarms and builds, blowing into a Gail force of stylistic guitar inventiveness and locking this sold gold composition into the replay position over and again.
“Tomorrow” flashes indie brilliance as it rushes in with its thematic and thunderous introduction before dipping down into an atmospheric and cleverly calculated verse. “Tomorrow” circles back, poking you with a premeditated tease, squeezing in one more measure before giving in and releasing the chorus. This is a stellar way to set up a song, moving in logical increments until you’ve got the listener eating out of your hand, anticipating the next fascinating twist.
I like the way that this group approaches each new verse with subtle constructive flavoring, using chess move restraint to make choruses big and bold till the resulting end moves like a religious experience. Melodic, dynamic and effective, by the time they downshift into the bridge for a few measures of heavy mayhem, they have you ready to slip on your Doc Martens and mosh around for a few. And just like that, they yank you back into the reality of the original theme they started with. As a songwriter, I can’t help but shake my head in awe at their compositional tactics. “Tomorrow” is catchy and intelligent music that offers just about every right thing you could want in a song.
“Blanck” creaks in on music box notes, dirge waltzing bass and shuffled drums, and the sing-song etherealism of Parella’s compelling vocal tone. Always circling for the set-up, Deal Casino drop into cavernous zones of desolation before bringing in the next musical hook of volume swelled guitar melancholy. Parella coaxes the band into the ring, unleashing a stormy torrent of six-string sizzle and vocal overtones that pause long enough to usher Parella back to the forefront of his thunderous outro and Jozii’s electric, radar-pinged guitar note disintegrations.
“The Runaways” is probably the band’s most popular live song, and it doesn’t disappoint on record. Colossal, Americana-toned electrics grind under the vocal ministrations of Parella. I like the two guitar set-up of Parella and Jozii, who sprinkle dusty country bends and raw, barroom grit on top of explosive open-chorded down strokes before dropping back under the melodic, single-note bass work of Jon Rodney, who ushers the song out with a quiet and definitive elegance.
I’m also a fan of the first EP, Cocaine Love. That EP was also manned by Leidersdorf and Romero and retains the same strong continuity that commands on The Runaways EP. Songs like the title-track, “Cocaine Love,” bring back a combination of 1990s, Blink-182 angst that mixes with a nostalgic, 1980s vibe culled from stellar bands such as The Cure.
Other songs from Cocaine Love that caught my ear were the eerie, otherworldly dance of “Limbo.” The buildup and eventual instrumental splash just feels like it’s coming down at the right time. And as usual, the cliffhanger leans and leans until it can’t be contained and the band explodes into the next compositional orbit, hailing “The Universe” and refocusing into miles of thematic setup and delivery resulting in far-reaching choruses that stay with you for days on end. Guitars reverberate in echoed brilliance as Parella roars into the solar obliteration of love.
Many positive things have been said about Deal Casino, and the usual comparison to Coldplay or Young The Giant are probably annoying and unwarranted at this point. But you’re always going to get the comparisons. What’s important is the fact that with each new offering, they become clearer in their communicative goals and bolder in their voracious thirst for a compositional superiority.
If you have a chance to see them locally, I would do it before they are gobbled up by the road. Their next show will be at The Court Tavern in New Brunswick on Nov. 8, and then they will be back at The Wonder Bar in Asbury Park on Nov. 10.
Both of their EPs are available at their site, and you can find out more about this unique rock and roll group over at facebook.com/dealcasinonj.