Dead Meadow have spent a decade cranking out their idiosyncratic stoner take on the classic power trio formula. Old Growth is their fifth studio album, but finds them at the peak of their game and – despite their very retro style – sounding more relevant than ever before.
Dead Meadow‘s material has always thrived on the tension created by juxtaposing the hard-rock blues sound of the seventies with the hazy psychedelia of the sixties. The disillusionment of the former combined with the yearning idealism of the latter … sounds a bit like a template for the way the world is right now, doesn’t it? Well, so does Old Growth.
It’s a simple palette Dead Meadow paint from; the time-proven trio of drums, bass and guitar. If you’re wondering where the split of the eras occurs, that’s easy: the songwriting is from the sixties, and the sound is from the seventies. The end result is a lazy hazy fuzzed-out melancholia, a wistful yearning for barely conceptualised better days – despite the bitter awareness that utopias fade the closer you approach.
The majesty of Old Growth is in its understated musicianship. The languid pace of the tunes combined with the warm fuzzy distortion on the bass and guitar goes a long way toward distracting you from the fact that Dead Meadow can really play. Playing slowly takes a different talent to shredding your fretboard; it takes a comfort and self-assurance, and an acceptance that space isn’t something to be feared.
There’s masses of space on Old Growth, among riffs that float like smoke through the air of a fresh spring morning, in drum patterns that make your eyelids heavy like a lunch-time reefer, and perfectly summed up and exemplified by the acoustic plucking of “Down Here”. And listen to Jason Simon‘s guitar solos when he decides the time is right for one; long lazy legatos and glissandos reach and stretch between the beats, harmonic tensions resolving like problems fixed … or just dismissed.
It’s the songs that make Old Growth a keeper. The whole album seems to be a sort of yin-yang balance between optimism and broken dreams, at a personal level and beyond. As far as the personal is concerned, if you can find me a better example of melancholic stoicism than “I’m Gone”, we need to compare record collections real soon.
When looking outward, though, Simon’s lyrics are filled with vitriol even if the delivery still slouches elegantly like an art student on Monday morning. I think we all know who he’s talking about on “Hard People/Hard Times” when he sings:
“… lie under oath without twitching an eye /
spend billions on war while children starve and die …”
While there’s a political undercurrent to some of the songs on Old Growth, it never intrudes. Dead Meadow can be appreciated purely on the basis of their sound – the sound of turning your back on the noise and hustle of the world for a while. But the option to ask questions is always there – and asking questions brings its own reward.