Take Two: Dark Meat – Truce Opium

My first review for InYourSpeakers was Truce Opium by Dark Meat.  The assignment doubled as my audition for the site.  It was a stroke of luck that they wanted a review of this album.  At the time the assignment was given to me, it had already been in heavy rotation in my apartment.  It was the most exciting release of the year so far, and I was excited to tell everyone just how great I thought it was.  Looking back at the review, I don’t have any reservations or regrets about what I said.  Sure, there are a few clumsy phrasings, but I was right then, and I’m still right about it.  It was a great rock album then, and it still is.  I’m not revisiting this review to make a brutal assessment of my skills as a reviewer.  If I was doing that, I’d probably write about that terrible Wale review that I wrote.

What brings me to revisit this review (other than the fact that it was my first review here) is the fact that shortly after publication, Dark Meat broke up.  Turns out I was one of few people that loved this album.  Their live audience was dwindling.  The band probably would have started to outnumber the audience if its numbers hadn’t steadily declined as well.  Band leader James McHugh apparently moved to Brooklyn, and Dark Meat was no more.  My favorite album and band of 2009 passed by virtually ignored.

The band probably would have started to outnumber the audience

if its numbers hadn’t steadily declined as well.

Was I wrong, or was everyone else?  Honestly, I’m still at a loss as to how anyone couldn’t see Truce Opium as a solid upgrade to Universal Indians.  The eight songs on Truce Opium were clearly more developed and focus.  Nothing on Truce Opium shared the unfocused energy that dominated “One More Trip” and “Assholes for Eyeballs”.  Ultimately, I think critics were unable to look past the fact that Dark Meat was a huge band full of weird hippies in face paint.  And once they got bored with that fact, they didn’t bother to really listen to the music.

But the fact remains that I feel like a lone voice in the wilderness when it comes to this album.  That’s fine when I’m covering something that just hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves, which is the case with Afrirampo’s stunning final album, We Are Uchu No Ko (I must admit a weakness for promoting this album at any chance I get).  Afrirampo are from Japan, and We Are Uchu No Ko has yet to find a U.S. label.  Furthermore, Afrirampo have since disbanded.  Its absence from local coverage is totally understandable.  But why did Dark Meat receive such cold treatment just a couple years after they were viewed with such promise?

One possibility is that they just weren’t that good in the first place.  Universal Indians boasted a handful of strong songs, but most of the album was full of unfocused energy and undeveloped songs.  And after all, Truce Opium hasn’t stayed in my personal rotation the way some albums do.  But neither does Universal Indians. They don’t have the same impact on me that they did initially, but they are still one of the most exciting rock bands of the last few years.

As a critic, I’m much more used to finding fault in an otherwise well-received album (maybe the best example is the most recent Walkmen album).  But this certainly isn’t the first time I’ve loved something the rest of the music world seems to have no use for.  My favorite Afghan Whigs album is Black Love, I love the Low albums that seem to most frustrate their fans, and my favorite Pulp and Swans albums have been disavowed by the lead singers of both bands.  To be honest, it can kind of suck when this happens.

But does it make me question my tastes or value as a critic?  Not really.  The music either touches me or it doesn’t.  It’s not something any of us can control, and ultimately, that’s all that matters.  If I’m the only one the artist is reaching, that doesn’t make the music any less wonderful for me.  But as a critic, I need to explain why that happens.  Not everyone will share the same opinion of an album.  I’ve never found a critic of film, television or music that I’ve agreed with 100%.  In fact, that would be kind of weird and creepy if it happened.  What’s important is that I explain why I love or hate an album so that someone with a different set of aesthetic values can at least make an educated guess as to whether or not the album will be of any use to them.  I think I did that job pretty well on my first review.

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