Dead Meadow's Old Growth casts a pretty cool shadow
J. Gordon
2/16/2008 6:17:12 PM

Some things you can never forgive, and the darkness of it casts a pall over everything you do; a great consuming shadow that sometimes, despite the cold discomfort gloom can produce, yields some great artistic rewards. Like its ancient reference, Old Growth, Dead Meadow’s fifth album [Matador Records] is doing something similar within its 1970s rock template. That’s not to say the sound is old news, however. This psych-rock trio originally from Washington DC (now in LA) are still very much a rock band, but their contagious, slow riffing, fuzzy-woozy thrum and shimmering Clapton-esque jams have taken on a more defined, shape.

The critics and fans say Old Growth is improving and refining the direction the band’s been moving in for some time. And like their other albums, sometimes they hit on a clear winner, other times you shrug and forgive them for their occasional slips into cheese territory. Thankfully, these guys have grown-up in an updated, messier school than their biggest influences, and Dead Meadow tend toward the long form, depressive slo-mo, versus constant Led Zeppelin electricity. This dark seduction is lightened by Jason Simon's pleasingly disinterested vocals that, this go-round, you can actually hear and understand.

Meshed deeply within and throughout all the psychedelia are some killer lyrics, such as those tucked into the sweet music-box sound of “Down Here”—a gentler, smarter turn for this band:

I wanted to know that bad
and to be sure over all we had
to feel completely
and so surely know
but that kind of feeling
sure comes and goes
Over hills, and cities and seats
through countless thoughts of disbelief
as above the clouds
must the sun always shine
I know
down here, it comes and goes
Love is all there ever will be
a sea in which to drown completely
I’ve heard it said
and I’ve written and I’ve read
I know
and still, it comes and goes

There’s just enough Kurt Cobain-ish anger and despondency to keep things interesting (without sounding like a rip-off), and “I’m Gone” is a great example of this both lyrically and musically:

With the rain comes the wind
Yes that storm is coming round again
I picture you in my mind
Most places we’ve been
I hope not to see again
and if I wanted to
I could be with you
come the light of dawn
I’m moving on, Yeah I’m gone
Whatever you feel
Time moves as it will
However you choose to deal
Lord knows I tried
but time don’t stand still

“Seven Seers” has a nice eastern flavor to it, and the rest of the album flows, one song into the other, like the stoner rock so many of us grew up with. Other moments the music is almost reaching toward Americana blues, except that the vocals are all wrong, for which we’re also grateful. Not because we dislike Americana, but because we love Dead Meadow’s difference.

Sometimes there’s no forgiveness in the lyrics, and “Hard People/Hard Times” wags their finger at current events, saying a lot of what’s been said already about war and our president. And right or not, because everyone’s talking about it all in the same way, it has begun to feel cliché. All the same, it’s got a pretty nice close with some great angry guitar and percussion:

I’ll watch you struggle
on the mountainside
crushed by the weight of
carrying your pride
and to the low circles
I’ll follow you down
and I’ll make sure you drown
You start a war
in the name of Peace
You lock yourself in chains
then call out for release

There are some things you can never forgive, it’s true. Old Growth might not all be brilliant, but there’s no need to forgive Dead Meadow for a bad album.


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