Richard Buckner: Meadow

Buckner continues to follow his muse into thorny territory, but its worth the scratches to follow him.

Richard Buckner


Label: Merge
US Release Date: 2006-09-12
UK Release Date: 2006-09-18

Richard Buckner's songs have always had their own internal momentum, whether it's from the stored energy of resentments finally blooming, wanderlust pulling the narrator from one "fresh start" to another, or a million motivations in between. It's always been easy to imagine Buckner's narrators sitting in a dusty pickup truck, at a crossroads, poised on that precipice between the past and the future.

Over the years, and over his last few records, that mental image increasingly finds that pickup truck simply barreling past that stop sign, as if acknowledging the past were to admit that there were still choices. Partly, this is due to Buckner's increasingly insistent sound; he long ago started minimizing the ramshackle folk elements in his songs, in favor of a stripped-down, tighter rock aesthetic. He's working harder, and making the listeners work right alongside him.

Accessibility's never been at the top of Buckner's priority list, but it's hard not to feel like something's been lost in the process. The pregnant pause that precedes the lyric "What if I just showed up tonight" -- as much a statement of intent as a question -- in "Ed's Song" or the cavernous piano chords and wide-open spaces of "Roll" and similar moments proved Buckner to be an artist who knew his way around dynamics. Those moments have become harder to find ever since Buckner adapted Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology on 2000's The Hill, as Buckner seemingly glimpsed a new path, free of obvious songwriting choices, for his search into the soul of a song. Maybe it's similar to Peter Buck's statement that he could write songs like "Driver 8" in his sleep, but that he'd be bored to tears -- he'd rather challenge himself. Thankfully, that sentiment's worked out better for Buckner than it has for R.E.M.

Meadow continues in that vein, and if anything, finds Buckner's lyrics becoming even more elliptical. He's always been fond of finding new ways to say things, and then breaking down that way of saying it to find yet another way to say it. As a result, Buckner's original meaning seems less important, and the listener's own interpretations seem increasingly valid. Take, for example, the following snippet from album-opener "Town": "Pretty destroyed / Coming through / Seizures spin around the room / Eastern time, seasons call / They're not the same when they show at all". Certainly, that's chock-full of meaning for Buckner, but that meaning is anyone's guess at this point (although it does kind of shimmer and make more sense the more you look at it), so we have to fill in the blanks. And that's just fine; music would mean a lot less without listener identification anyway.

Besides, there are still moments of clarity; lines like "What will you miss when things are fine?" (also from "Town") and "Aren't you cold standing by my window curtained up and closed?" (from "Window") possess devastating directness.

Buckner delivers it all with a sound that's robust by his recent standards, enlisting folks like Doug Gillard (Guided By Voices, Cobra Verde, solo), Kevin March (GBV, Dambuilders, Those Bastard Souls), JD Foster, and Steven Goulding (Waco Brothers, Mekons). Gillard's guitar, in particular, consistently adds minor wrinkles to Buckner's arrangements. "Before" and "Numbered" are fleshed out by piano, and warm organ tones in "Window" work their way around pounding drums and ringing guitars. And thankfully, Buckner can still lay down an inspired vocal above and beyond the warm idiosyncracies of his regular drawl. The way he croons his way through "Mile" sounds for all the world like voices from the past calling the listener back.

All in all, Meadow sounds like a natural step in the evolution of Buckner's sound. He's still poetic and hard to pin down, but if there's one criticism, it's that his fondness for the midtempo-to-slightly-uptempo range risks making things run together. If a song doesn't immediately hook you with its arrangement or with a lyric that grabs you by the collar, it runs the risk of getting lumped into a same-sounding pile, which is a shame, because almost without fail, even Buckner's most unassuming songs reward close scrutiny. Meadow's a solid record, one that gives back what the listener puts in.





The Kinks and Their Bad-Mannered English Decency

Mark Doyles biography of the Kinks might complement a seminar in British culture. Its tone and research prove its intent to articulate social critique through music for the masses.


ONO Confronts American Racial Oppression with the Incendiary 'Red Summer'

Decades after their initial formation, legendary experimentalists ONO have made an album that's topical, vital, uncomfortable, and cathartic. Red Summer is an essential documentation of the ugliness and oppression of the United States.


Silent Women Filmmakers No Longer So Silent: Alice Guy Blaché and Julia Crawford Ivers

The works of silent filmmakers Alice Guy Blaché and Julia Crawford Ivers were at risk of being forever lost. Kino Lorber offers their works on Blu-Ray. Three cheers for film historians and film restoration.


Rush's 'Permanent Waves' Endures with Faultless Commercial Complexity

Forty years later, Rush's ability to strike a nearly perfect balance between mainstream invitingness and exclusory complexity is even more evident and remarkable. The progressive rock classic, Permanent Waves, is celebrating its 40th anniversary.


Drum Machines? Samples? Brendan Benson Gets Contemporary with 'Dear Life'

Powerpop overlord and part-time Raconteur, Brendan Benson, grafts hip-hop beats to guitar pop on his seventh solo album, Dear Life.


'Sell You Everything' Brings to Light Buzzcocks '1991 Demo LP' That Passed Under-the-Radar

Cherry Red Records' new box-set issued in memory of Pete Shelley gathers together the entire post-reunion output of the legendary Buzzcocks. Across the next week, PopMatters explores the set album-by-album. First up is The 1991 Demo LP.


10 Key Tracks From the British Synthpop Boom of 1980

It's 40 years since the first explosion of electronic songs revitalized the UK charts with futuristic subject matter, DIY aesthetics, and occasionally pompous lyrics. To celebrate, here's a chronological list of those Moog-infused tracks of 1980 that had the biggest impact.

Reading Pandemics

Poe, Pandemic, and Underlying Conditions

To read Edgar Allan Poe in the time of pandemic, we need to appreciate a very different aspect of his perspective—not that of a mimetic artist but of the political economist.


'Yours, Jean' Is a Perfect Mixture of Tragedy, Repressed Desire, and Poor Impulse Control

Lee Martin's Yours, Jean is a perfectly balanced and heartbreaking mix of true crime narrative and literary fiction.


The 60 Best Albums of 2007

From tech house to Radiohead and Americana to indie and everything in between, the 60 best albums of 2007 included many of the 2000s' best albums.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Solitude Stands in the Window: Thoreau's 'Walden'

Henry David Thoreau's Walden as a 19th century model for 21st century COVID-19 quarantine.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Will COVID-19 Kill Movie Theaters?

Streaming services and large TV screens have really hurt movie theaters and now the coronavirus pandemic has shuttered multiplexes and arthouses. The author of The Perils of Moviegoing in America, however, is optimistic.

Gary D. Rhodes, Ph.D
Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.