Like the patchwork cover art, Richard Buckner's Meadow is a hodgepodge tapestry of modern rock and singer-songwriter aesthetics constructed with fragmented lyrical fabrics and musical threads. The husky-voiced folk singer’s third outing with producer JD Foster rivals the duo’s two other masterpiece collaborations, 1997's Devotion + Doubt and 1998's Since. With moody atmospherics and oblique poetics, Meadow may well be Buckner's most polished, mature record to date.
The opening track, "Town," is a haunting yet driving tune that hinges on a double time rhythm, grinding guitar riffs, and lyrics of late night binges and heartbreak. The introspective "Canyon" slows the tempo with a strummed guitar intro and minimalist backing for Buckner's quavering, dry vocal track. The power-chord-infused "Lucky" finds Buckner venturing into janglepop territory and employing echo effects for his chorus vocals. This seemingly odd juxtaposition lends itself to the album's overall otherworldly feel.
The largely acoustic "Mile" continues this ambience with cryptic lyrics and ethereal instrumentation, while "Before" features a slower pace and moments of sublime piano-driven folk-pop. Foster and Buckner add atmosphere to "Before" by using nature noises and delicate, almost ineffectual mandolin touches. The most straightforward rock song on Meadow is "Window." With thunderous, resonating percussion and reverb guitar riffs, "Window" haunts through moments of musical anger and quietude. "Kingdom," by contrast, is a moseying pop-rock track with brush drums that would be mellow if not for Buckner's morose vocals.
The moody combination of power chords and piano give "Numbered" a surreal, melancholic feel, while the aptly titled "Spell" begins with a surf rock intro before drifting into a mellow tremolo guitar and organ melody. "Spell" finds Buckner at his most introspective with lyrics like "A spell was moving / I let it lose me." The closing "The Tether and the Tie" marks a shift in Buckner’s artistic direction with slightly off-kilter vocals and an acoustic folk-pop melody. "The Tether and the Tie" is also the most quiet, intense musical experiment on Meadow.
Through all of the seeming disparities in tempo and temperament, Buckner's introspection, heartbroken ambience, and openness to experimentation ring true. Meadow transports the listener into the spell that Buckner mentions in the song of the same name and allows the listener to become lost in the surreal musical and lyrical landscape that Buckner creates. • Tracy M. Rogers