DEAD MEADOW – Force Form Free (2022)REVIEW

回光调息 — From vital counter cultural artifact toward fashionable commodification the easygoing slump and swagger of sixth-gen psychedelic rock continues to primarily speak to altered minds yearning for contentment rather than contempt, the emergent opiatic atmosphere available to the in-the-moment performance acting as a quasi-philosophical baton motion away from chaos. Analysis is often the antithesis to the escapist glomeration of this type of hedonistic façade, the absolute shedding of the existentially anxietous self being instinctually preferable freedom to confrontation. The ego-death available to dark, uncomfortable psychedelia and its conjure is the remedy sought in truth from my point of view, and due to the challenging incapacitation made possible by the global pandemic anno MMXX ad infinitum the results of automatic, experimental acts outside of the ‘self’ during trying times seems to have acted as a great equalizer, a test of readiness and adaptive resolve. With this in mind I would partially posit a record like ‘Force Form Free‘ as some manner of survivalist craft, a different modus yielding unexpected results from an artist who’d established a deep sense of identity over the course of two decades. Washington D.C. borne trio Dead Meadow aren’t unrecognizable on this eighth full-length album, their love of the late 60’s sprawling mind and never-ending 70’s buzz persists in glorious high-fidelity glow herein, yet this isn’t their usual gig. That’d be a good thing, a great thing even, wherein the only sore result of this paradigmatic interruptus is that the listener prone to delve and seek out more of the same will be left stranded within the lushness of this sole ~35 minute island for the time being.

Dead Meadow formed between three folks who’d broken away from their indie rock/post-hardcore digs (The Impossible Five, Colour) in the late 90’s, soon forming what most folks still classify as a somewhat throwback stoner rock band, a retro acid rock band, or even neo-psychedelia depending on the album and the year noted. When I’d discovered the band they were more often praised for their brilliant take on ’60s-heading into 70’s heavy psychedelic rock, lumped in with groups like Nebula per a bit of a stretched association in the early 2000’s. Theirs was an authentic marriage of dreamlike guitar-fuzz bliss and stoney riffs that’d been properly surreal on their self-titled debut (‘Dead Meadow‘, 2000) still held up as an ideal “retro” vision of laid back era specific sounds with a jammed, bluesy ease to their work. Their sound would change quickly over the course of several records but never lose its ancient feeling. The follow up, ‘Howls From the Hills‘ (2001), was a nod to The Brian Jonestown Massacre from my point of view at the time with a certain vocal cadence applied to slow-bumpin’ pieces and though the vocals were still odd the band were onto something special for its time. When ‘Shivering King and Others‘ released in 2003 it’d been the best yet version of what Dead Meadow did but from my point of view the last thing I needed in that style from ’em. Collage art on the front, ancient and kinda dark psychedelia with a muddled and thick production values as its innards was entirely my kind of thing in the early 2000’s. The band never lost that identity but their sound did continue to evolve with each release, I just didn’t follow ’em for the whole seven full-length trip and such ’til now. If you prefer the humble bustle of those earlier records but still kept up, maybe consider yourself an ‘old school’ style Dead Meadow fan while I’ll go on being a fair-weather fan.

By 2013 or so Earthless, Wooden Shjips and All Them Witches pulled a lot of folks back into this particular headspace, myself included, and ‘Warble Womb‘ (2013) might not have pleased every fan at the time but from my point of view it’d been a sensical evolution and not such a drastic event as I’d seen it described. I believe it also signaled the return to the core trio as original drummer Mark Laughlin would participate in most all releases from that point on. At this point you’d think I could just break off a piece of ‘The Nothing They Need‘ (2018) and suggest that ‘Force Form Free‘ was another squishy step along their steady path but instead much of the context I’ve tried to push through here is little more than a character witness for this largely experimental record, a collection of ideas specifically for the Blues Funeral Recordings label’s subscription series PostWax. The band have written and recorded this record remotely in a style which doesn’t necessarily constitute a typical full-length studio record from Dead Meadow.

Force Form Free‘ is an album of finely detailed illustration cycling in animation, uniformly hypnotic mid-paced sensations which more often than not tap into bluesy, sojourn-minded psychedelic waft which relies on the perfectly dialed antique fuzz landscapes of vocalist/guitarist Jason Simon whose work shapes the focus of this somewhat brief ~35 minute mostly instrumental record. Opener “The Left Hand Path” is the eerie steps taken forward with mild trepidation, a saunter into the unknown handled with the finesse of musicians entirely in tune with their craft projecting a singular and unmistakable vibe. From outrunning the fuzz in a Satanic panick’d heist film to slow-motion desert lounge, with a pool, “The Lure of the Next Peak” each of the pieces the band touches here is contained in scene and thus far uninterrupted by vocals.

Scene and cinematic music in general should begin to cue the mind into what this record is at least partially all about, especially as “Valmont’s Pad”, their own take on Ennio Morricone‘s “Valmont’s Go-Go Pad” from the score for the 1968 film Danger: Diabolik. It’ll be the piece to reset, an uplifting piece written for a wacky anti-Bond film shifting tone of the record to a collection of good ideas rather than a full blown moody drift towards introspection. “To Let the Time Go By” communicates this well enough, taking a smoke break while Simon‘s vocals and warming acoustic guitars fill the room against a disarming back beat. Act three will be a bit darker beyond this point but this surely isn’t a concept record, again, a set of works intent on sustaining the trio’s connection despite the distance.

The title track and it’s equally hinged-upon partner “Binah” would be the portion of the album where I’d gone from entertained to enamored with not only the fine choice of fuzz and synth tones used throughout but in expanding upon the serpentine wonder which “The Left Hand Path” had introduced the record with. This’d not only made great sense when looping the album back to its start but in keeping the listening experience cohesive enough to avoid an odds-and-ends feeling entirely. The opening build of “Force Fore Free” was a particularly strong point of fixation to start ’til I realized all it was was a droning build carrying on for its six minute stretch. That my mind began to wander within this tract of ooze is some testament to the trip being immersive at the very least. “Binah” is more substantive if you’re looking for guitar pyrotechnics, but only just substantive enough and the whole experience left me feeling like they were one song short of ‘Force Form Free‘ feeling complete. It ends just as it’d seem to be getting somewhere in the last three minutes of that last song.

So much of my listening experience in 2022, especially concerning but not limited to new projects, was spent witnessing musicians figuring out how to continue being in bands beyond 2020 and this’d often meant scatterbrained and under-wrought works, a whatever sticks approach for the sake of “content” which rarely yielded more than glop-dripping walls, yet in the case of Dead Meadow circumstances seem to have had a more desirable effect. Constraints seem to have allowed their sound to evolve in interesting ways, now appraising as surprisingly different work of still very fine quality. What matters most is that ‘Force Form Free‘ feels like a leap, not a budge, in a different direction and does its best to exude the transformation available to adaptation. A moderately high recommendation.

Moderately high recommendation. (79/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Force Form Free
LABEL(S):Blues Funeral Recordings
RELEASE DATE:December 9th, 2022

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