J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Now Departing: Dead Meadow - Old Growth

Dead Meadow
Old Growth
(Matador ; 2008)

The last time I checked in on Dead Meadow was also the first time. In 2002 I saw them open for Fugazi and was treated to a fuzzy, dirty version of classic rock being channeled through psychedelia and indie-rock. They've been putting out albums pretty regularly since then, but Old Growth is the first that I've actually given a complete listen.

On the whole Old Growth is a little more subdued than I might expect. The majority of the album's tracks play to the band's strengths as a trio. The dirty guitar effects that dominate the album's sound hearken back simultaneously to both early-90s grunge and the work of blues-channeling rock bands from Black Sabbath to Led Zepplin to Cream. Given the debt that grunge owed to the thick, percussive classic rock of the 70s, this isn't such a surprise, but does speak to the multiple influences at work in Dead Meadow's music.

But what do I mean by 'subdued?' The record just doesn't rock in the big way that I would expect. It's much more groove oriented as openers "Ain't Got Nothing (To Go Wrong)" and "Between Me and the Ground" demonstrate as they lock into a riff and work within that theme for the majority of their running time. "Ain't Go Nothing" comes in right at seven minutes in length which is somewhat off putting as both an opening track and a song that deviates little from its main riff throughout. Beginning with "Down Here" however, the album takes off in more varied directions. "Down Here" is a largely acoustic driven number, a short number, and a distinct one on the album, but a sign of more variety.

"I'm Gone" comes in like soft, propulsive power-pop, sounding almost like a jangle-free version of some of Teenage Fanclub's more melancholic numbers. For a band that has secured itself a reputation as a guitar-centric band, Old Growth is surprisingly solo-free. Where they do exist, they are limited, tasteful and add a good bit to the overall picture.

"Seven Seers" is another example of the album's attempt to stretch out, bringing in vague Eastern flavors with elements of understated noise and strings. It's a brooding, dark and remarkable album track and something that seems perfectly suited for a film score, the lyrics adding flavor and atmosphere to the piece. Towards the end of the album, "Hard People / Hard Times" brings one of the closest thing to out and out rocking that the album contains. The lyrics pursue a political agenda that is sort of nebulous and ultimately not terribly effective. It serves as an anti-climax to "Either Way" - a slow wind down to the rest of the album. In tone it matches "Down Here" and it gives the album's finish an easy finish, even if the previous track didn't lead into the finish that well.

There's a lot to be found in Old Growth, but it seems like an album that reveals itself quickly and doesn't invite a lot of intense repeat listenings. It's the type of record that would do well in the background - without lyrics or vocals that are a serious feature above the instruments, it sits well as a record that welcomes less distinctly attentive listening. As a live act, Dead Meadow are probably still a power-house and a singularly enjoyable show, but their recorded work, at least on Old Growth, is only so interesting. The pursuit of more diverse styles seems the key to a more invigorating catalogue - something this album hints at, but doesn't fulfill.

Rating: I(nteresting)

(Rating scale: A, E, I, O, U and sometimes Y)

Judge For Yourself:

Dead Meadow - "What Needs Must Be"

Dead Meadow - "I'm Gone"

Dead Meadow - "Seven Seers"

Download Old Growth from EMusic

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  • At 10:02 AM, December 16, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    i've really been enjoying dead meadow lately, but i agree with you on this album. it definitely isnt one of their best. Go the "Feathers" or the self titled one, in my opinion...



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