Considering the strange, lawless wasteland the indie genre has become, it’s refreshing to find a group attempting to break out of the let’s-steal-our-dads’-cigarettes-and-smoke-them-in-abandoned-pools-at-5-AM cycle that romanticizes abuse, and simultaneously fills the Tumblr pages of many a 13-year-old girl. That being said, Common Deer and their debut EP I, don’t quite make it out entirely.
I (pronounced “one”) comes from the Toronto-based band Common Deer, and is their first EP since their beginnings in 2014. Self-described as orchestral indie, their sound flutters between eerie synth-pop and bubbly sunshine sing-a-longs, sometimes creating a strange mix of both.
The five songs on I range from reflective looks on toxic relationships (“Damages“), to more happy-go-lucky numbers (“Doorway”). The variety found across the short record is a result of four of the five members covering multiple instruments, often within a single song. Hopping between cello, violin, synth, guitar, vocals, keys, bass, and more, Common Deer offer a unique sound from their unexpected instrumental combinations. What the group lacks in strong vocals, they make up for in composition.
At first listen, Common Deer sound like your typical summer festival band (reminiscent of The Mowgli’s and Death Cab for Cutie), but their often dark lyrics tell a different story. Graham McLaughlin and Sheila Hart, splitting vocal duties (among other instruments), express stories of loneliness and strength, of violence and self-sabotage. This is particularly prevalent in certain songs, such as “Damages,” which has the memorable line, “I think you might have a violence like mine.” But the theme is inconsistent. “Confession (I Should Have Known)” opens the EP by taking the opposite approach, falling into a typical teenage love song structure which features watered-down, wimpy lyrics like, “It’s our last chance until the stars collide/Where we’ll never die.”
On the whole, I leaves me intrigued, but not fulfilled. The collective power and strong composition Common Deer brings to the table is encouraging, and with a little work, could flourish into something revolutionary. While the genre they’re trying to break into may be falling apart, they have the potential to escape its claws and seek refuge in their own individuality. They just haven’t gotten there yet.