Dead Meadow Old Growth

[Matador; 2008]

Styles: psychedelic stoner drone power trio classic rock
Others: Spaceman 3, Black Sabbath, Hawkwind, Neil Young, Pink Floyd

Trios are powered by tightness, cohesion, compactness. All of it dictating you to stay within the groove. No room for fleshing out the sound with a second, along-for-the-ride rhythm guitarist, no fucking keyboard providing background (or trying to command the foreground), no squawking horns budding in to detract the core from the task at hand: to rock out with your cock out. (Apologies to the PC brigade for what must seem like a straight-up, cold sexist remark -- although Sleater-Kinney rock out with their cocks out, metaphorically, harder [groan] and better than just about any trio you could name.) Cream, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, ZZ Top, Blue Cheer, Motörhead, Rush (minus Geddy Lee’s forays into keyboard glory), and Grand Funk Railroad. Maybe it is “small band syndrome” that makes these threesomes play larger than life. Maybe the company of three is inductive to intense relationships and conflict. In any case, trios bring the power.

Having said that, Old Growth is the least powerful album Dead Meadow have made. Singer/guitarist Jason Simon, bassist Steve Kille, and drummer Stephen McCarty have foregone a lot of the force that made their name as a power trio (though, for a brief period, they have been a power quartet). It seems to be a trend, even among duos, quartets, and quintets. Recent efforts by archetypal “stoner” bands like OM, Grails, and Black Mountain have emphasized songwriting, textures, and exoticism over horse-power, and now Dead Meadow seem to be succumbing to maturity by producing lighter, less deafening fare as well. Many jump on bands for wimping out over time, but we would do well to remember that power is relative, and that these bands mentioned above have also made their best albums of their short careers with these “lighter” efforts. These albums are still “heavy;” they have beats and drones that are as dense as smashing 10-ton gold nuclei together at light speed. They just aren't “loud” in the conventional, musical sense of the word.

We jump into familiar territory a lot on Old Growth: the strutting Spaceman 3 fuzz and Sabbath bass (“Ain’t Got Nothing [To Go Wrong],” “'till Kingdom Come,” “The Queen of All Returns”) and the enchanting acoustic ramble (“Down Here”). There are plenty of psychedelic jams too, but they are mostly raucous, blues-based workouts. On “Seven Seers” and “Hard People/Hard Times,” Dead Meadow pick up the gauntlet that a truckload of bands are dropping by using exotic, unconventional instrumentation (sitar, tamboura) to weave mystic Middle East tapestries of sound. And strike me down if “I'm Gone” doesn't sound like The Flamin' Groovies. If there was one thing in this cold, hard world you could count on, it would be that Dead Meadow would never be catchy. But here they are, as foot-tappingly happy as anything by The House martins (joke).

In Old Growth, Dead Meadow have made an album in the mold of the classic power trios of the late 1960s/early 1970s. Taken as such, Old Growth is perfectly titled, admirably played, and immensely enjoyable. After a few listens, heck, after just one listen, Old Growth feels like an old friend. That may cause problems for people; most people have enough old friends, but new, challenging ones are harder to find. The meandering nature of the band is still there, but they take the shape of, again, classic rock forms rather than the sprawling Floyd-esque psych ‘n’ shoegazer soundscapes that characterized Feathers. For the first time, Dead Meadow have created something for everyone, not just fans of one aspect of their sound. While that might piss off those very same fans, it is for the greater good.

Dead Meadow still play psychedelic music, but it is influenced by the same mainstays that original psych was influenced by: folk and blues. It is this attention to the past that makes Old Growth seem more authentic than copycat. The band devours the souls of its heroes instead of merely aping their moves. Don’t get me wrong, there is a nice dabbling into different music pools on Old Growth, and the obvious influences are still worn on very wide sleeves, but it all fits more coherently than on past efforts. They are moving towards a Dead Meadow sound instead of experimenting with a slew of them, and that is a tricky move to pull off.

Speaking of tricky moves, I just wrote 700-plus words about Dead Meadow without once mentioning either Tolkien or Lovecraft!

1. Ain’t Got Nothing (To Go Wrong)
2. Between Me and the Ground
3. What Needs Must Be
4. Down Here
5. ‘till Kingdom Come
6. I’m Gone
7. Seven Seers
8. The Great Deceiver
9. The Queen of All Returns
10. Keep On Walking
11. Hard People/Hard Times
12. Either Way

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