Imagine a big, steaming plate of scrambled eggs, fluffy, syrup-drenched pancakes, and a heap of bacon: juicy, dangerous, satisfying, excessive. The adjectives that an artery-clogging greasy-diner breakfast evokes are not unlike the words you might use to describe what Washington, D.C.'s Dead Meadow strives for. On its debut for indie juggernaut Matador Records, the trio attempts a re-creation of big, slow, '70s riff-rock, the kind of music scruffy kids in corduroys listen to while staring at black-light posters and conjuring the munchies.
Shivering King and Others' 12 tracks find the band veiling nerdy Dungeon Master lyrics with thick, Black Sabbath-worthy guitars as viscous as cholesterol and drum swaggers that would make an ass-shaker like Mick Jagger proud. While singer/guitarist Jason Simon's paper-thin crooning leaves much to be desired (a fact the group seems to mask by burying the vocals in the mix), the magnanimous ambition of his riffing all but makes up for it. Simon clearly possesses a fondness for the blues, as each solo finds him swinging the notes as much as possible. When done right — see the White Stripes or any of Jack White's predecessors — this technique exudes a rich emotion dependent on rhythmic imperfections, an emotion more gut-wrenching than simple precision. The problem is, Dead Meadow too often comes off sounding as forced as, well, Jack Black (Tenacious D).
To be fair, you get the impression that appearing in a live setting might be the necessary catalyst for this band to realize its grand aspirations. Listening to the record, you suspect that your breakfast was left out to cool while the waitress smoked a cigarette. If, given the confines of an echoing venue as opposed to compact-disc technology, the drums are loud and the guitars louder, we can reasonably hope for the sonic satiation the Meadow seems capable of. And if these results are anything like what's hinted at on the album, it's certainly worth the risk.