Imagine for a minute an 18-hour drive—one that takes you into the early hours of morning in a countryside that offers not so much as an all-night convenience store to stop at. Your destination is home, and the only reason you’re subjecting yourself to such a grueling driving schedule is that you can’t get there soon enough. Even though you’re close to home, you know that the last stretch is always the longest. You start seeing things; black splotches of oil on the road resemble tire debris at first, but soon become animals and later, people. You’re not drunk, but you might as well be because you’re certainly a danger to yourself and anyone else on the road at 4 a.m. You won’t stop; you’ve gone this far, and stubborn determination, (and a steady decline in mental coherency), tells you that you will sleep in your own bed tonight or die trying.
If you could collect the emotional weariness, the physical exhaustion, and the overall lack of sanity that comes from sleep deprivation on the road, and somehow harness these feelings into a sound, it would come out like “I Wonder What This Windshield Tastes Like”, the opening track from Blood Meridian’s debut, We Almost Made It Home. The melancholy waltz lurches like a funeral dirge, enhanced by harmonica and a two-note slide guitar riff that wavers back and forth through the chorus. A voice, somewhere between inebriated and tortured, tells the tale of the wreck-to-be. The voice is resolute; the crash is inevitable; get ready.
Welcome to what may be a worthy contender for bleakest release of the year, a record that will most likely be handed the alt-country tag, a label that seems all too simplistic. It would be more accurate to say that Matthew Camirand, (ex Black Halos), and his crew of seasoned Canadian artists have crafted an apt soundtrack for loneliness—the perfect score for a Sergio Leone Western if Leone were to remove the gun fights and run his story through the gritty filter of urban Vancouver.
This is music that seeps into the skin like barroom smoke, instigating unease in the listener; and for those who perpetually exist in dark places, it’s doubtful that you will find any comfort here. This isn’t a blues record to commiserate with; this isn’t your drinking buddy; this is confirmation that life really is hard, and you really are going to live it alone.
Surely I’m being over-the-top, you think. Well, consider yourself warned.
Here’s a sample: “Buying all the things that take away the pain / Living every day (like it matters anyway) / Let’s get ruined”. These lines are sung over handclaps on the Leonard Cohen-esque “Oh, Oh, Oh”, the most musically upbeat track on the record. Later, a man sells his soul to the devil to save his family on “Children of God”. “Sailor’s Warning” is all about the fear of drowning in the ocean. The drowning motif, (about as un-subtle a metaphor as you can ask for), pops up again and again on tracks like “Oh, My Friends” and “The Sun Always Rises (For You)”.
On the louder numbers, there’s a bombastic quality to the mix. The guitars screech and shift into each other uneasily, simulating the dull haze that often accompanies a nasty hangover. Backing vocals are present in a near-shouted, drunken sing-along, but they’re mixed into the background in such a way as to sound distant, only adding to the air of isolation. Thankfully, quieter acoustic ballads are interspersed throughout, but don’t expect these prettier numbers to be void of malaise.
If this description doesn’t resemble a glowing endorsement, let me clarify how important release I feel this is. From a musical standpoint, Camirand’s songs don’t fall victim to the usual pitfalls that plague so many records of this nature. Too often, songwriters sink their lyrics into music so heavy-handed—so slow and low—that one can’t wade through the dreariness to get to the written message. Some artists go the other way, draping their despair in upbeat pop, and the message often gets lost in the wink-wink irony of it all. Blood Meridian finds the balance and manages to create a unique sound for every song. The result is that the listener’s attention is maintained throughout, and every dark line is absorbed. It’s worth a listen, if only for the arresting experience, even if the experience isn’t particularly pleasant.