At the start of the decade, Austin’s The Deer arrived after an ampersand—they were the loose accompaniment behind Grace Park, a promising folk singer with a wounded sense of wonder. In the years since, Grace Park has become Grace Rowland and folded both her name and her cotton-wrapped soprano into The Deer, a quintet that pairs fiddle and piano with sharp but understated lead guitar. Across three albums, they’ve glided between various mixtures of folk and rock, sliding up and down the continuum between Mazzy Star’s skyward wanderings and Grace Potter’s torchy soul. They’ve succeeded mostly in jam-adjacent circles, filling festival lawns with hooks rippling through a narcotic haze.
But The Deer’s fourth album and debut for Keeled Scales, Do No Harm, feels like the bleeding edge of a breakthrough, a country-rock dream machine somewhere between a jolt and a drift. The best of these 10 songs drape tapestries that could have been lifted from Beach House’s practice space across songs that occupy a space adjacent to folky musicians like Hiss Golden Messenger. Paisley keys, scrambled electronics, and warped mandolin lines soften the edges of would-be anthems, giving off a kind of omnipresent glow. “Confetti to the Hurricane,” an electrifying ode to swallowed rage, falls in line with the arcing triumph of Big Thief, while the groaning fiddles and crackling guitars of “Stark Raven” frame the horizon’s sprawl, recalling the infinite expanses of Brightblack Morning Light.
The Deer close Do No Harm with an extended take on “Walking in Space,” a wild tune from the ‘60s musical Hair about checking in to a more peaceful realm. When it shifts halfway from a Southern-gothic brood into a jubilant exaltation of escapism, The Deer’s own story comes into focus: a once-nebulous band that sifted through the basics to build, at last, a weird little world of their own.