Jason Simon, vocalist and guitarist of Washington D.C psych-rockers Dead Meadow, returns to his solo endeavours with his clearest and most ambitious album to date. His signature guitar, versatile as ever here, weaves through a dreamy and yearning lyrical universe on an album that brings together ideas from his band’s records filtered through a new instrumental dimension. A Venerable Wreck inhabits lands lying somewhere between cosmic psychedelia, backwoods Americana, intimate folk, and even country, with nods to early 60’s soul music, dub reggae, and American lo-fi.
After several albums with Dead Meadow on labels such as Matador and Xemu Records (his band’s own music imprint), Simon, surrounded by new collaborators, ventured into distant lands to release his latest effort through Chilean BYM Records (Föllakzoid, Chicos de Nazca, The Ganjas) who recently celebrated 10 years of existence. Jason became impressed with the label during a visit to the country in 2016, where Dead Meadow played a festival and performed at the record label, deciding that he would like to work with them.
Jason recorded the new songs at studios, including his own, in his resident city of Los Angeles CA, where he and Dead Meadow have resided for the last decade.
Working with a handful of superb musicians, including Nate Ryan of the Black Angels, Jason “Plucky” Anchondo from The Warlocks and Conner Gallagher of Calexico and John Doe, the songs were recorded with a focused direction that gives space to a melting pot of arrangements, bringing to life mythological tales, LA stories and well-constructed poems from the likes of Leonard Cohen.
Album opener “The Same Dream” sets the mood and context for the songs to come - a country-fantasy that cuts to the bone with an emotive banjo marking the tempo; while “See What It Takes” demonstrates Jason’s growth as a troubadour, giving a pronounced importance to the vocals and message. Metaphors and allegories are recited in “Snowflakes are Dancing” and “Door Won’t Shut Blues” followed by soft wah-wah solos and subtle tremolo infused guitars, which gravitate throughout the record, providing transient and surrealistic vibes, as well as a sonic narrative through-line. “No Entrance No Exit” and “Hollow Lands” move the cosmic Americana mood along, aided throughout the album by Gallagher’s impressive pedal steel work, while never losing the author’s personality, idea or drama.
“The Old Ones” ventures into near dub reggae territory with it’s Augustus Pablo-like melodica. The song “A Venerable Wreck” is the black sheep of the album, an instrumental with interweaving melodies, pulsing layers of tape echo, and a 1980’s lo-fi hip hop feel that immediately strikes the listener as aesthetically singular to the rest of the album. Yet it is this song which connects both sides of the record and showcases the complexities of the songwriter. A songwriter who is unwilling to compromise his vision simply to conform to the obvious. A songwriter who is not content to be pigeonholed into a single style or genre, even if it’s a genre which he helped define with his two decades plus work with Dead Meadow. A songwriter who can take you on a strange and utterly compelling journey through the heart of American music; touching on folk, blues, psych, lo-fi, art-rock, and then close the album with a song nodding towards the low rider soul classics of Billy Stewart and Brenton Wood, “Without Reason or Right’. Twenty years into an influential and impressive career, Jason Simon has raised the bar with A Venerable Wreck.