Dead Meadow Feathers

[Matador; 2005]

Styles: drone rock, space rock, psychedelic rock
Others: Spacemen 3, Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, Hawkwind

The other day I opened my front door to find my dead cousin Ellen standing on the porch. She had died a decade ago, a post-college woman with eternal optimism who had fallen off a mountain in Washington state. I was surprised to see her, but I managed to stammer out a sentence that conveyed my shock. "Ellen, you fell off a mountain a long time ago."

Ellen just looked at me and shrugged her shoulders. I noticed that her chest-length brown hair still appeared so odd to me, even though it was as normal as hair could be on a girl, chest-length and brown. "I'm glad you remember me." She smiled and I invited her into my family room, where I was listening to Dead Meadow's 2005 effort, Feathers. It had been on my stereo for the past week and had followed me around via iPod for just as long. The beautifully crafted and exceedingly mature space rock album had floored me when I first put it on, and it literally hadn't left my stereo since. My reaction was so strong and I couldn't quite figure out why. And now I couldn't figure out why my dead cousin had come back to visit me. But she didn't even let me ask that question.

"Tell me about what's going on in your life." She had sat down on the couch.

I did tell her about my life. I told her about how uncertain I felt at this point and how choices seemed too numerous. "We have entered an era where I can see any life possibility through a Google search, and it's driving me crazy," I said. "I can't choose; I can't think. I just..." I got embarrassed. "I'm talking too much. I'm sorry."

"No problem. Why don't you just tell me about what we're listening to." So I told Ellen how Feathers had led me to formulate an appropriately bloated theory about music: that space rock is the ultimate transition genre. I talked about how Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon was the direct midpoint between The Piper at the Gates of Dawn and The Wall. I said that space rock is all about dichotomy. It's the place where innocence meets the loss of hope; where energy meets fatigue; where laughter meets quiet sorrow. Space rock teases the listener's imagination with wild rocket sounds, bizarre guitar pedals, thunder drums, fantasy lyrics and a constant reaching to actually make the listener hear thickness.

But space rock also creates vast, languid landscapes heaving with isolation and anguish. Guitars lurch like world-weary sighs and voices appear like trapped ghosts under the heavy chains of guitar fuzz. Songs climax in blurry, cartoonish freakouts only to fall like frail mountains. I told her that "See you on the dark side of the moon" is the most famous space rock lyric of all time because it is the rallying cry of the movement. It exhibits both a youthful hope to escape to the heavens and a fear of the isolation associated with lunar life.

And Dead Meadow, I continued, have always sounded warped and lonely. That's the real reason they're America's leading space rock band. 2003's Shivering King and Others capitalized on their ability to create haunting Sabbathian riffs that accentuate Jason Simon's high-register vocal murmurs. But Feathers is a thousand times more focused and mature than that record, and it's all for the better. Jason Simon doesn't just sound lonely or sad anymore; he is lonely and sad. Adding a fourth member to Dead Meadow for Feathers somehow subtracted; they sound like they have no members at all anymore. And when back-up vocals finally appear on "Let It All Pass," the album's eighth track, the listener is practically startled by the presence of a person's voice, even though Simon -- whose voice just sounds like another spacey instrument -- has been singing all along.

"Stacy's Song" came on as I ended my tirade, and we sat back to listen to this potential single, a song that is vaguely a psychedelic pop song but nevertheless screams space rock in its brutally spacious execution. I got us some water and we sat down on the couch in the living room.

Ellen began to talk. She talked about how she had been mountain climbing with her fiancée that day when she lost her grip and fell for the rest of her life. "He had to leave me to find help. He didn't want to move me for fear he'd hurt me even more." She paused and took a sip of water. Her body was still as young as it was, and now that I had grown up -- I was only 11 when she died -- we were close enough in age to actually communicate, to tell each other things. "He had to leave me to die. He had to. I had to be left scared, hurt, alone and about to die. He had to leave me like that because he loved me." She started to cry. After a long while she asked me what I remembered about her.

I thought back to the days when she was still alive, and I could only remember two or three separate times when we had been in contact. And they were all the same. "I think I only remember you leaning over to hug me and talk with me at funerals."

Her tears had stopped in the time it took me to answer her question. "I'm sorry that's all you remember about me."

"No. No. It's actually really nice."

"Silver Door," a classic Dead Meadow song and the 13-minute album closer to Feathers, came on. I realized I couldn't tell from the warped instruments and the gluttonous noise whether the silver door was being opened or closed. Probably both.

1. Let's Jump In
2. Such Hawks Such Hounds
3. Get Up on Down
4. Heaven
5. At Her Open Door
6. Eyeless Gaze All Eye/Don't Tell The Riverman
7. Stacy's Song
8. Let It All Pass
9. Through the Gates of the Sleepy
10. Silver Door