When Dark Meat released their debut album, Universal Indians, in 2006, they came to my attention mostly for the Elephant 6 connections and massive, Polyphonic Spree-style band formation. Looking back, it’s interesting how that format was so popular for a moment. Anyway, in the three-plus years since those sessions, Dark Meat has trimmed itself from a band as deep as 24 heads to a much more economic nine-piece, and it really shows in the tightness of the record. Instruments still come in and out of the mix, with songs like “Flaps” showing a real sense of progression from one member to the next. But there are also more straight-up numbers like “Last of the Frontiersmen”, a track that has the modest goal of rocking your face off.
Where Universal Indians was all about free folk chaos, here the instrumental and sequential focus is just much tighter and easier on the ears. Rather than sounding like complete dysfunction, this group anchored by songwriter Jon McHugh moves very fluidly from song to song. It captures their live show just as gloriously as Universal Indians, but avoids much of the frivolities that cornered that album as an artistic curiosity more than an entertaining piece of music.
Dark Meat still require quite a healthy amount of aural elasticity — how else could one survive the transition from the free jazz flutes of “The Faint Smell of Moss” to the southern rock stomp of “Future Galaxies” (sugar coated with a horror movie brass section) and the extended free jazz via rock ‘n’ roll excursions of “No One Was Here” and “Song of the New Year”? However, the schizophrenic nature of their last release has been dropped and replaced with a more clear, grounded sense of psych, folk, and rock music, even if that purpose is still rooted in audio chaos. Particularly when it comes to the vocals, which are my main problem with the record. There’s too much echo and forced psychedelia going on there, sort of like bands that go lo-fi just for the extra attention.
Dark Meat aren’t making music for everyone, but it’s fairly obvious they’re having a hell of a time doing their own thing. The psychedelia is laid on nice and thick, with influences as diverse as Eastern instrumental music and Krautrock to the MC5, of Montreal and, yes, touring with Lil’ Wayne. Fans of music that makes you take a hard look at your own musical values should definitely check this one out because the jazzy, academic discussion is palpable with this one; the brass section in particular, titled the Vomit Lasers, is one worth hearing multiple times. They spice all of these songs up with that little something extra to bring them home. Truce Opium may not be a record that stays in the rotation forever, but it’s definitely one that’ll have you thinking about it long after you’ve walked away.