ABOVE THE CURRENT
Buck Meek is an integral part of what is arguably the moment’s biggest contemporary indie-rock act in the world—one that’s courted fervid devotion, controversy, backlash, and backlash to that backlash. And yet none of that seems to extend to the aptly named Meek, who’s quietly been releasing impressive solo work over the last half decade to little fanfare. It’s the irony of Big Thief as a whole: They’re a band that practically demands a cultish following, but whose individual members resist the kind of cult of personality that surrounds similarly picked-apart performers like Mitski, Snail Mail, or any one of the boygeniuses.
This unknowability is at the heart of all of Meek’s work, including his new record Haunted Mountain, a collection of songs that weave the mystical and everyday while meticulously obscuring the reality of either. While, for all intents and purposes, Big Thief are a band from nowhere, Meek is very much a product of his Texas upbringing—most noticeably in the tumbleweed yodel that characterizes his vocal stylings, but also in the vast, open frontier obscuring the edges of his work. In a recent interview, Meek talked about the “balance between myth and…something very simple and grounded” that characterizes the Texas songwriters he admires, such as Townes Van Zandt, Blaze Foley, and Guy Clark.
On Haunted Mountain, Meek is obsessed with finding a way to live in both worlds. The record’s title itself is a testament to an unmovable sturdiness and the mystical spirits that may call it home, with each song existing somewhere on the spectrum between the two. Simmering mid-album highlight “Cyclades” is a study in how memory itself becomes its own shrouded apparition, especially when it’s repeated and passed down. “There’s too many stories to remember, too many stories to tell,” sings Meek as he tries to convince his parents of the validity of their own tall tales. It’s one of several times that Meek presents small moments of reality that quickly bloom into the fantastic, loosening the grip on either.
This isn’t the only moment where truth is hard to come by on Haunted Mountain. Meek doesn’t treat this so much as a problem to be solved as a reality to be accepted. “I’ll never know the secret life inside of you,” he sings on “Secret Side,” a slow-trotting folk song highlighted by lilting harmonies with Haunted Mountain producer Mat Davidson. Later, on “Where You’re Coming From,” Meek sings of rough-and-tumble specifics—weeds, grass, dirt, streams—providing a gritty contrast to the impenetrable mind and heart of another. It’s just as these kinds of musings come to a head that Meek and his backing band typically whip themselves into a frenzy, louder, harsher, and more rocking than anything in his catalog, letting the music speak where words tend to fail.
As in-step as Meek and his band are throughout the album, they don’t always excuse some of Haunted Mountain’s trite declarations (“Our first kiss felt like home,” “I knew the moment that I saw you that my life would never be the same,”), but even the most treacly moments are quickly hedged by walls of distorted noise or the wail of Meek’s benign mountain spirit. Haunted Mountain may not reveal much about its creator, but its mysteries remain as engaging as ever.