Dead Meadow has somehow misplaced its shuddering, guitar-rock effervescence. Perhaps the band members left it in a truck stop after they decamped from D.C. to Los Angeles last year. Maybe departing guitarist Cory Shane absconded with it. Regardless, their new album, Old Growth, is missing the tripped-out dynamism that was detectable on even the most meandering of their earlier songs. The band now sounds dog-tired and dazed, like a Monday-morning burnout scraping the bowl for Friday night’s resin. Today’s underground is littered with similar sonic miscreants, bands that revel in the titanic riffery and psychedelic-tinged doom-rock of the early-to-mid ’70s. Dead Meadow is no stoner-come-lately, though—the band has been charting its own erratic course through nebulous waters since 1998. At its best, the band has found a way to play songs that ooze euphonic grandeur while transcending its meat ’n’ potatoes arrangements and mangy melodies. Previous albums, such as 2005’s excellent Feathers, showcased a band at the top of its psych-rock game, with fuzzed-out guitars and moaning vocals full of feral intensity. On Old Growth, the group’s psychedelic bark becomes more of an anemic whimper. Vocalist-guitarist Jason Simon has never been much of a singer, but his washed-out melodies often had a pleasantly unvarnished quality. Now he mumbles through an album’s worth of lazy refrains that rarely distinguish themselves from the crusty guitar vamps and soporific rhythms: “The first stars they did appear/Across the blackening sky,” Simon languidly intones on “I’m Gone,” sounding like he’s ready to doze off. Pacing is a large part of Old Growth’s problems: Most of the cuts are midtempo, and they tend to blend together. Dead Meadow has never been built for speed, but on previous releases it at least had a keen sense of tension and release. Here, any element of urgency (or enthusiasm, for that matter) seems completely absent. The opener, “Ain’t Got Nothing (to Go Wrong)” starts off promisingly, with an earthy groove and ambiguously druggy vocals, but the lackadaisical trip gets old fast. “Between Me and the Ground” is just as threadbare, though it does have something approaching a swagger, with a Brit-rock bounce reminiscent of early Verve. Examples of the band’s old fire occasionally do emerge. The exotic lurch of “’Til Kingdom Come” plays like Led Zeppelin’s “Achilles Last Stand” in waltz time; Mellotron, strings, and a relentless bass pulse give the song an intensity that’s rare on the album. “Seven Seers,” apes Zep too, this time via open-tuned acoustics and Middle Eastern percussion, but the speeded-up ending injects a healthy dose of chaos into the song. That’s it for thrills, though. Considering the band’s earlier aural excesses, it’s understandable that Dead Meadow wanted to pare down. But the band needn’t have pruned quite so aggressively. There’s little meat left on the bone, and no amount of weed or whiskey can make Old Growth a less boring record. Stick to your Electric Wizard LPs, toker.
VIDEO: Dead Meadow, "What Needs Must Be"