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Dead Meadow - Feathers

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Artist: Dead Meadow

Album: Feathers

Label: Matador

Review date: Mar. 17, 2005

D.C.-based Dead Meadow are riding the same psych wave that propelled countless ’60s and ’70s acts to hallucinogenic eminence. Featuring gushing globs of guitar, shuddering bass and ethereal, if somewhat indistinct vocals, the band’s fifth disc, Feathers, is a gorgeously euphonic skull-crusher. While a great many contemporary bands are mining similar territory, Dead Meadows find a few new ways to blow minds.

What separates Dead Meadow from their latter-day peers is their spellbinding sense of hook. Feathers is cacophonous and epic, but ultimately catchy. The fuzzy congeniality of “Stacy’s Song” is a good example of the group's melodic sensibility. A gently tripped-out ballad, it’s kind of thing you might play for a special friend when coming down from a shared psychotropic experience.

Singer-guitarist Jason Simon rides the rails between the moon-addled dark magic of Barrett-era Floyd and the scorched-earth riffery of Black Sabbath, sometimes in the same song. While his guitar playing is convincing, he doesn’t possess the most compelling set of pipes in the world. Still, he knows how to work with what he’s got, delivering opaque vocal melodies well suited to the spectral haze. Second guitarist and newest member Cory Shane fills in the gaps with glassy, chiming licks that don’t distract from the proceedings. Jason Kille’s fluid and rubbery bass work is a treat; he offers needed punctuation to Simon and Shane’s cascading guitar figures. Drummer Mark Laughlin cracks and snaps somewhere in the distance, keeping the kettle just under a boil.

“Eyeless Gaze All Eye/Don’t Tell the Riverman” is the album’s centerpiece, a shuffling monstrosity ripped from the psych-rock playbook. The cyclical groove spins through several cycles before launching into a spidery guitar solo. After returning to its stuttering central riff, the tune then settles into Dark Side of the Moon territory – spatial, glacial and intersected with ghostly slide guitar.

The unearthly “Let It All Pass” owes much of its radiance to lilting guitar figures and an entrancing tempo. It also features a grinding wah-tinged guitar solo, which slices through the middle of the tune with arcane volition. Simon’s vocals sound charmingly cool and distant, his best performance on the album. The song’s lyrics – like much of the disc – are typical lysergic prose. But I do detect an H.P. Lovecraft influence here and there. To their credit, Dead Meadow evoke a florid dread not dissimilar to the writer's best work. .

Psych rock seems to be everywhere you look these days, but Dead Meadow achieve distinction through their innate ability to combine canny songwriting with sonic adventurousness. Loaded with interesting twists and turns, Feathers is another fine addition to their kaleidoscopic catalog.

By Casey Rae-Hunter

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