Dead Meadow

Feathers

(Matador; 2007)

By David M. Goldstein | 2 March 2005

Dead Meadow were handpicked to open a number of European dates for the Super Furry Animals last year. Such an honor could safely lead one to assume that they kick all kinds of ass, if offering precious little insight into what they actually sound like. But Gruff Rhys did a pretty good job of the latter when he told the NME that “they look like these really scrawny indie kids with moustaches, but then they get onstage and they’re like the heaviest band ever!”

Nicely put. Dead Meadow firmly entrench themselves in the psychedelic sludge-rock of the late '60s and early '70; and as with like-minded travelers Comets on Fire, guitarists Jason Simon and Corey Shane have yet to meet a fuzz face or wah pedal that they didn’t obliterate, and the requisite Black Sabbath/Band of Gypsies comparisons are certainly apt. But while the Comets opt for faster tempos and a splatter-riffic, Jackson Pollock approach to songwriting, Dead Meadow are nothing if not slow and deliberate; their frighteningly reverberated riffs carefully unfurling from the speakers like opium smoke.

While I’m told that 2001’s recorded in a barn Howls From the Hills still does the best job at capturing the intensity of a Dead Meadow gig, Feathers is a far better studio effort than Shivering King; offering up several good examples of what this band is about. It could benefit from a little more rawness in its guitars, and the drums are still far too subdued relative to the live show, but Feathers manages to capture a swampy aura that Shivering King was severely lacking. You can hear this on the appropriately titled opener “Let’s Jump In,” where Jason Simon’s appealingly nasal vocals fight to be heard amongst split pea-soup thick blues riffage; eventually giving way to bludgeoning power chords and the liberal wah-wah solos that populate most Dead Meadow songs.

But it’s also a positive sign that the few tracks that don’t rely on such heaviness no longer sound like pointless stop gaps for the real deal. “Such Hawks, Such Hounds” is the best title for a Jethro Tull song that Ian Anderson never came up with, and with its uncharacteristically melodic strumming and mystical lyrics involving said animals, sounds a lot like Tull, too. “Stacy’s Song” breaks out the pedal steel for a not embarrassing take on alt-country, and the last two minutes of the otherwise textbook 60’s psych of “At Her Open Door” take Jimmy Page to da club.

It practically goes without saying that fans of guitar heavy psychedelia and mind-altering substances will find plenty to enjoy here. The band’s logo utilizes the same font as Deep Purple did on their first record, and the green hues of the cardboard digi-pack are ideal for divvying up your latest stash among friends. Still, I can’t help but wonder what sort of thunder these guys would be capable of putting forth on wax with a little more studio money and the right man behind the boards. Feathers is Dead Meadow’s fourth studio record; a Dave Fridmann produced fifth would fucking kill.