Dark Meat - "The Faint Smell of Moss" (Truce Opium)
The version of Dark Meat that made their 2006 debut album was an 18-person operation, including horn section and backing vocalists. More psychedelic stew than soul review, it still had elements of the latter, as bad-attitude rock got souped-up with a carnival of detail. Along the way, they stepped in puddles of noise of both the No Wave and the free jazz variety. But that might be putting too many tags on it. A lot felt like just messing around to see what you could do with that many people. What made it succeed so well was that all the messing was done on top of a really solid set. Like a lot of great debut albums, it seemed the core of the band had been playing the songs for a long time. What made it unique was how all the other members were jamming shit around the Stratocaster chords.
Three years later, the Dark Meat spectacle has been trimmed to nine. But the band on this record sounds bigger. The songs on Universal Indians were like a circus bike crowded with acrobats. Truce Opium‘s tracks are built from the ground up for a big group. The guitar riffs are still in the turn-of-the-’70s mold, but but they drone more, winding through the kind of Arabic scales that blend well into a din of horns and keys. Listen hard, and you can probably figure out what each of the nine members is doing. This is a more cohesive band, more sure of its sound. Predictably, it’s less entertaining for it.
If it’s got the typical second-album problem of sameish material, it’s still unlike anyone else out there. Frontman Jim McHugh’s voice is a yelp that could cut through any wall of sound. It’s unpretty enough to drain away any notions of hippy communality or space rock that follow naturally from their approach. He’s farther back in the mix, and he’s toned down the indignation (no titles like "Assholes of Eyeballs" this time) but he still sounds bothered, even as the rest of the band chants together and yodels happily through the finale.
The highs and lows of Truce Opium depend on how much they can work into a frenzy. So the longer tracks work best. The slow march of "No One Was There" thows off as much heat as anything they’ve ever done. When the double-time coda comes in, the same musical figures have been trotting for minutes. Wings pop out, and each takes flight. The Keith Richards’ chug that opens "Last of the Frontiersman" should be too earthy to get weird, but gradually leads to a traffic pile-up of brass and twang. This might be the rare band that’s better off when everyone’s unsure about what they should do.