Having gained at least some recognition as part of breakout New York foursome Big Thief, guitarist (and, evidently, singer-songwriter) Buck Meek released his debut self-titled record in the months before Big Thief is set to tour around North America. Although Meek had previously released a spate of tracks with Big Thief Adrianne Lenker, his full-length debut strikes a more nuanced balance between the muted electric folk of his early releases and the more ephemeral rock Big Thief has been putting out.
For his part, Meek delivers 10 solid present-day folk tracks. I hesitate to call it modern folk, because here, we must draw a line between the brand of folk that’s peddled by singer-songwriters in the top 40 charts, and what is a more grounded, ambulatory record.
“Cannonball!” for example, makes use of slide guitars and relaxed (but not lazy) drumming that is consistently almost (but never) late getting to the beat. The result is an unfailingly summary ditty that packs one of the catchiest pre-chorus melodies included in any rock record this year.
On the side of the record that’s more folk-leaning, we have “Exit 7 Roses,” wherein Buck mumbles a sweet melancholy narrative, which is almost lost in the lackluster delivery. Here, the case could be made that production on the record intentionally pushes elements together, so that the bass line and the drums sometimes occupy the same space, or so that at times, we can’t be quite sure whether we hear a guitar or a piano. Just as on “Cannonball,” “Ruby” is more straightforward, but is punctuated by the measured messiness that characterizes the record. If anything, however, it lends some kind of sonic credence to the stream-of-consciousness narratives Meek weaves in and out of the fairly consistent folk backdrop crafted throughout the record.
Whether the artist meant for the instrumentals to overshadow the vocals on just about every track at first listen is unclear, but it does take a certain degree of concentration on the part of the listener to follow along with most of the lyrical content of the record. This is due mostly to Meek’s meandering delivery, but the case stands that it precludes any half-caught bar of lyrics from standing out as sharply as the melodic portion of a song. If albums like these relied on radio plays to get off the ground, Meek’s self-titled debut would be dead on arrival, but it might just be the case that, as most listeners turn towards streaming, requiring a closer, more attentive practice of listening from his audience might turn out to Meek’s advantage. On the short of it, one more play on Spotify puts money in his pocket, but in the long term, if listeners do decide to stick around for a while, they might find themselves drawn in by the record’s lazy country magic.