“Don’t worry about it, Dante. Just keep it rollin’”. Just a little studio chatter, but that’s how "Kick Up The Dust" starts, and it lets you know how Blood Meridian works. And then the acoustic guitar and simple piano line kicks, the bass and drums propelling things right out of the usual Americana territory. Next a wild phasing electric guitar and by the time the banjo part kicks in the wheels are coming off and the hair on your arms is standing up. Then, just like that, it’s over. But these guys are onto something. Maybe it ain’t the Next Big Thing, but it’s something.
That’s “Your Boyfriends’ Blues”, and it’s about borrowing somebody’s girl, and if it existed in the early 90’s it would’ve been on a lot of my mixtapes. But more importantly, it signals that this record is not just a comfortable step up from Blood Meridian’s first album. Over the first half (that would be side A, in “record album” talk) anyway, the sound isn’t like before – downbeat yet easygoing indie/folk/americana – they put that aside and let ‘er rip. And I have a theory about how this happened.
When I first heard of the band, they were on tour opening for a couple other Vancouver acts, Black Mountain and Ladyhawk. Just a short jaunt through the US, and we managed to get a show in town. The entire night was amazing, with a small but enthusiastic crowd, and the bands sitting in with each other, rocking out. Everybody had a great time and Ladyhawk became my new favorite band. But I think that playing with those guys changed something. This is just so much more than I expected, raw and wild.
Not to say that there’s not more of the good ol’ Americana stuff to be found on the record. I suppose I should drop a few names to give you a point of reference, so here goes: Neil Young, Sparklehorse, Palace, Dinosaur Jr., Flaming Lips, Wilco… and they wouldn’t sound at all out of place with most of the Jagjaguwar roster. I’m actually a little surprised that they didn’t pick up this record. So it’s kind of that bastardized strain of country music that got filtered through the 90’s underground, rather than the more reverent stuff we’re maybe a little more used to, with some psych folk/rock mixed in.
The second track, “Work Hard, For What?” suits the subject matter perfectly, it’s a nice little jaunt, and the most easily accessible track right off the bat. But on “Let It Come Down” they bring the mood down with acoustic guitar and organ, building to a swirling climax with dual cranked guitars sounding like Slobberbone deep into a dirge. “Soldiers Of Christ” takes a left turn into thick bluesy riffing territory, and damned if they don’t pull it off. This track and the next, the anthemic “Kick Up The Dust”, make a strong argument for inclusion on year-end-lists. Considering the lyrical themes the album deals with, that’s saying something… failure & loathing, love & repentance… taking your job and shoving it… heavy stuff. Let’s just say it ain’t the feel-good hit of the summer, but there’s something cathartic and genuinely satisfactory (if not happy) on the other side of the void. On this one they get a little help from their friends in Black Mountain and Ladyhawk.
As for the rest, the Blood Meridian I was expecting shows up, and unfortunately it never quite matches the rollercoaster ride of the first half. There are gems here for sure, but it feels a little anticlimactic. More listens all the way through will be necessary before it sinks in. The production is top notch throughout, with every arrangement perfectly placed, and a nice warm sound. Matt Camirand makes great use of his limited vocal range; there not much of a twang there, but it breaks up like an old tube amp. On the last track, “McDonald’s Blues” they break out the huge guitars one more time, just to remind us that they can.
More videos and mp3s are here.