The chug rolls in like a skunky fog, casting a ghostly pall over Dead Meadow and its groovy psychedelia. More Casper than Headless Horseman, the spirit lounges lazily in deeply rutted rhythms that gently waver like a spindly tree in a soft summer breeze. The heavy-lidded drone subsides beneath front man Jason Simon's languid croon, revealing a pastoral amble through the folksy environs of its latest, 2008's "Old Growth." While not all of the Los Angeles trio's fifth album employs acoustic guitars " and even those songs with a prominent jangle eventually blow off a little electric steam " it's a striking element in what has become a rather familiar formula.
Since forming nearly a dozen years ago, Dead Meadow has cultivated a hazy, thick-hipped shuffle that suggests the weighty rumble of Blue Cheer leaving gravity behind in pursuit of Spacemen 3. It's mood music for blunted attention spans beguiled by clouds and other expansive, slow-moving objects. While the band's latest employs a more organic palette and prunes the jams, the changes aren't drastic enough to disturb anyone's reverie.
The group formed in Washington, D.C., in the late '90s from the remains of a couple indie-rock acts whose members intended to pursue more personally satisfying sounds.
"We really wanted to get back to what got us excited as kids: to play heavy music that really evoked images and feelings. Like classic Zeppelin," said bassist Steve Kille. "We had this whole vision when we were trying to start this band of doing something that resembled what made us so excited about making music in the first place."
Always better at evincing a sensation or sketching a billowy soundscape, the act's lyrical inspirations tended toward the fantastical, drawing on the ideas of J.R.R. Tolkien and H.P. Lovecraft. With each advancing album, much of the early heft dissipated, exposing a dreamier allure with sparse hooks joining the omnipresent grooves. Meadow added a second guitarist, Cory Shane, prior to 2005's "Feathers," but cut him loose before recording its current disc.
"It was just an experiment with the four-piece," Kille explained. "It only lasted a couple years. The three-piece is nice because it's so much more open. There's so much room for each of us to fully do our thing."
Kille dismissed the three intervening years between "Feathers" and "Old Growth" as merely how long it took to pull the music together. The musicians did spend more time workshopping and demoing material before taking it to a farmhouse in Indianapolis owned by drummer Stephen McCarty's grandparents, where the band recorded the album. The spirit of the 19th-century home invaded the atmospheric songs, literally.
"You've got to listen real close, but you get down there in the mixes you can hear some weird sounds," Kille said. "We'd hear strings and reverb moving while we were moving around in the room and shit. Sometimes, late at night, we'd turn it up real loud and hear all kinds of weird shit get picked up through the keyholes in the amps, speakers and mikes. It was a good time."
The loose, freeform structures and vibe-driven ethos is what's allowed Meadow to stay engaged in the music.
"That's why I think we can tour and play so much, because the songs have plenty of room to just stretch out or change up, and to do different things to them every night," he said.
Dead Meadow with Rainbows Are Free begins at 9 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 23 at Opolis, 113 N. Crawford in Norman. "Chris Parker