17.1.12

Dark Meat - Universal Indians & Truce Opium (2007/2009)



No i trafiło mnie ... Minęło parę lat od wydania tych płyt, a ja dopiero się na nie natknąlem. Muszę się nimi podzielić, bo jest to coś fantastycznego. Grupa Dark Meat to istny muzyczny wulkan stylów o energii - od free jazzu po southern rock. Mi najbardziej kojarzy się to z dokonaniami takich zespołów jak Fairport Convention albo The Insect Trust z domieszką współczesnej neo-psychedelii w najlepszym wydaniu. O samym zespole nie wiem praktycznie nic, ale wydaje mi się, że tworzą swoistą komunę muzyczno-towarzyską. Z zamieszczonego w serwisie You Tube filmu można wywnioskować, że jest to dosyć liczne grono wariatów. W każdym razie zachęcam do zapoznania się z tym fantastycznym materiałem.

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Dark Meat's debut album, Universal Indians, begins quietly, with the lone voice of Page Campbell singing an a capella intro with a distinctly pastoral lilt. Just when your ears have become accustomed to her folksy mellifluousness, "Freedom Ritual" explodes in a rapture of sound, as approximately two-thirds of the population of Athens, Georgia, come in all at once. Or at least that's how it sounds. Dark Meat is a Southern rock (or Southern-rock) collective headed by Jim McHugh and spiritually guided by free-jazz saxophonist Albert Ayler, and Universal Indians features nearly 30 musicians seemingly playing at the same time.

These sprawling songs hang together loosely, dense and busy with different textures, which are caked on in thick brushstrokes to sound large and layered: Jeff Tobias and Alexis Daglis' saxophones squall through "Assholes for Eyeballs", adding a grainy dissonance, while the marching-band brass make "One More Trip" sound like the coolest field show ever. "Angel of Meth" features girl-group harmonies and "Be My Baby" drums. Descending guitar riffs fall through "Dead Man" and "In the Woods"; choirs of backing vocals echo the choruses, punctuating McHugh's drunken vocals with Stonesy staccato ooh-oohs; gospel cries occasionally pierce the din. Ambient interludes "Birdsong + Footsteps, Flute, Horn" and "Disintegrating Flowers" betray a hippie party vibe, offset by the children chanting and giggling through "Well Fuck You Then".



At times Dark Meat lumber along, as if cramped by the tiny compact disc that holds them all like General Zod, but the loose rhythm section-- at least four strong-- keeps the band surprisingly agile, laying down classic-rock thunder and r&b boogie with equal bravado. As a result, even when the songs descend into a mire of controlled cacophony-- and almost all of them do-- the band can easily and gradually rebuild the rhythms and melodies element by element. If it becomes a predictable tack, it's no less effective for being repetitive.

At the center of this maelstrom is McHugh himself, the ringleader and chief songwriter. Not only does he demonstrate résumé-quality personnel management skills, but his lyrics-- whether conjuring a dead friend, detailing an arduous spiritual journey, or just flipping the bird to anyone in earshot-- walk the line between angry and hopeful, fearful and fantastical. As a singer, he sounds emboldened by the crowd behind him, as if drunk on their company. Universal Indians would be interesting only for the logistics of the undertaking-- I imagine shows where the distinctions between performer and audience is blurred completely-- but the group's communal excitement make Universal Indians a fascinating feat, surprisingly accessible and rewarding.


Truce Opium (2009)

I saw Dark Meat play a small club in Washington D.C. shortly after the release of their debut album, Universal Indians. The Athens collective, whose members numbered well into double digits, couldn't all fit on the tiny corner stage, so a guitarist and a horn player had to play from the audience. Decked out in warpaint and throwing handfuls of confetti like grenades, they actually outnumbered the crowd, which seemed at the time both sad and somehow impressive. Bandleader Jim McHugh has a vision, and while it may not be logistically or financially feasible, he never leaves that fifth tambourine player at home.

For their second album, Truce Opium, Dark Meat have shed a few members-- they're back down into the single digits-- but they actually manage to expand their sound. Where once they mixed the most avant of jazz influences with the Stonesiest of classic rock, now the band blends in, well, pretty much everything imaginable: metal drone, prog effects, throat singing, Southern folk, even granola-crusted jamband. Predictably, Truce Opium bursts at the seams with ideas: A fife rises out of the din on opener "The Faint Smell of Moss" to give the percussive riffs more emphasis. On "Future Galaxies", the horns swell and subside hypnotically, recalling the Doppler Effect keyboards on Kraftwerk's "Autobahn", and closer "Song of the New Year" is a 12-minute sing-along dirge that slowly accrues instruments even as it threatens to fall apart.

That crammed conceptuality is an essential part of Dark Meat's appeal, but those densely packed ideas don't seem to be arranged as exactingly or as excitingly as they were on Universal Indians, which is another way of saying the new songs aren't as strong. By embedding free-form noise into traditional song shapes, they made classic rock sound exotic and made the conceptual sound earthily accessible. But on Truce Opium, the songs are almost carelessly loose, with no recognizable elements to tether their jamming or shape their noise. "When the Shelter Came" twists and tangles itself melodically, initially coming across as anthemic before eventually wandering off into an extended horn break and then collapsing. It sounds unfinished; the shelter never comes.

Still, the novelty of such an unwieldy lineup translates into a distinctively dense sound, so that even when Truce Opium feels unmoored and aimless, the sheer force of Dark Meat comes through clearly, as on "The Faint Smell of Moss" and the short, spastic "Yonderin'", two of the most lucid songs here. Ironically, the best track may be one of the longest: After a rambling intro, the 10-minute "No One Was There" breaks down into an extended drum-rooted jam punctuated by an ascending theme that makes an effective hook for 10 minutes. Dark Meat still play it as loudly as possible, which compensates for so many shortcomings. (pichfork.com)

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