Deal Casino’s latest EP, “Isadora Duncan,” features four new songs that showcase the Asbury Park-based band’s maturation as songwriters while doing justice to their amazing live show.
I’ve got good news and bad news, and then some more good news.
The good news is that Deal Casino’s new four-song EP, Isadora Duncan, is a great taste of the progression the band have made in the last two years with their songwriting and layered, atmospheric sound.
The bad news is that it’s an anti-climax to their live show, which I wholeheartedly recommend seeing when they celebrate the release of this record on June 16 at House of Independents in their hometown of Asbury Park with their friends in Sonic Blume, Well Wisher and Haunt Club.
That said, more good news is that Isadora Duncan is rich and enjoyable. Here is a look at each of the four songs:
“Dirty T-Shirt”: A warbly tune initially accompanies a world-weary vocal about a young person who is past the time of coming of age and starting to realize they are beginning to outgrow the lifestyle to which they’ve become accustomed. The off-kilter intro kicks into a sweetly layered pop groove that leads to a particularly powerful second verse: “You’re cleaning up your room wearin’ that dirty T-shirt. You shove the mess under the bed because that always seems to work. You go out drinking with the monsters in your closet. You’re past your prime just like the rubber in his pocket. You used to look cool smoking cigarettes but now they’re just bad for your health.”
Then again the first verse is pretty awesome too: “I stretched out all your clothes that I wore to all my shows. But when you went back to the store, they didn’t sell them anymore. So you had to make do with the smell of me all over you. Then you didn’t seem to mind. You used to wear me all the time. I guess it wore you out.”
“Soft Machine”: One of the things I love most about Deal Casino — besides their sonic and visual atmospherics — is Joe P.’s falsetto. All the songs on Isadora Duncan showcase that strongly, but this one does it best of all. To a carnivalesque, keyboard-chiming accompaniment by Joe C., Joe P. drops Todd Solondz-like pearls such as “Your Daddy’s hair, your Mama’s eyes. But still hard to recognize. You have a drink but hesitate. You try not to masturbate.”
Joe C. also channels the late Richard Wright of Pink Floyd in a textured tech-orchestral chorus that complements Joe P.’s vocal range beautifully into a dreamlike conclusion. The combination of quirky dance beats with grand Pink Floyd-like arrangements reminds me of Joy Division.
“Paper Planes”: A mesmerizing tune that compares living in paradise on Earth to that in heaven despite a variety of struggles and obstacles often brought on by unrealistic desires. Next to my favorite Deal Casino tune, the unreleased “Father’s Day,” “Paper Planes” is the strongest song I’ve heard so far by them. A simple, quaint but dissonant guitar riff, a bell-like keyboard ring that dings like an elevator and mechanical techno rhythms by drummer Chris Donofrio and bassist Jon Rodney propel most of the track alongside waves of a psychedelic sea, complete with seagull-like sounds. I love the opening verse: “Look into these eyes. Do they look inspired or are they empty? What do you foresee? I need to hear it right. Look into these hands. See the tolerance hid among the rows of these cracks as they grow. I’m doomed until the end.”
“12×20”: This emotional acoustic ballad is another strong example of Joe P.’s falsetto, another look at paradise albeit juxtaposed with a lack of safety, and another great lyric: “We can’t kill it so we just feed it and keep it in its cage. You’re knockin’ at the door, but we’ve got nothing to say. Nothing to say. We don’t really know what it is so we just gave it a name. We’re trying to talk again, but we’ve got nothing to say.”
I was never a big Deal Casino fan until I saw them for the first time in a couple of years at the end of January at The Asbury hotel. They played some of these songs acoustic, and I realized how strong their songwriting had become. I saw them a couple of days later in a full band set but with a simplified stage show and, again, the songwriting knocked me out. Then I saw them a few weeks after with their full-on stage show at Asbury Park Brewery and then a bit later at the Wonder Bar and thought they created an exceptional blend between mesmerizing technology and raw soul that not only made the new songs great but the old ones even better.
I’m not sure why the band called the EP Isadora Duncan because there is no reference to the pioneering modern dance choreographer in the lyrics, but one thing’s for sure, Deal Casino have something to say, and they say it very well. Apparently, the EP is just four of 15 songs recorded at Fidelitorium Studios in North Carolina with Erik Kase Romero, who recorded their six previous EPs and the 2017 self-titled full-length debut. The band’s second LP is expected to drop later this year (hopefully with “Father’s Day” on it).
Having seen Deal Casino four times in as many months, I can visualize each of these songs as I listen to them on the record, but now that’s the thing: Deal Casino are meant to be seen, not just heard. They’re one of New Jersey’s most visual bands with an exceptional light show that accentuates the strong emotions and performances of each song and excellent effects that work well despite a low budget. You also can experience that when they play with fellow Asbury faves Parlor Mob on June 19 at the Mercury Lounge in New York; June 21 at Ortlieb’s, Philadelphia; and Sept. 29 at Sea.Hear.Now Festival on the Asbury beach also with AP greats The Front Bottoms, The Battery Electric, The Tangier Blues Band and Nicole Atkins, as well as Jack Johnson, Incubus, Social Distortion, Ben Harper, Blondie, Lettuce, Jesse Malin, Deer Tick. G. Love & Special Sauce, The Menzingers, The English Beat, The Original Wailers and more.
Bob Makin is the reporter for MyCentralJersey.com/entertainment and a former managing editor of The Aquarian Weekly, which launched this column in 1988. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. And like Makin Waves at facebook.com/makinwavescolumn.