“Cyclades” is the sort of song Buck Meek could spend the rest of his life writing. A rollicking country-rock rambler, it opens with a verse about Meek’s father crashing a motorcycle into an elk and ends with his parents magically surviving a head-on collision with a truck. There’s no connection between those stories, aside from being unbelievable—something even Meek mentions: “They said, ‘You made that all up’/When I retold their story recently.” The chorus provides no commentary other than, “There’s too many stories to remember.” Meek isn’t throwing up his hands in frustration, but expressing a sense of wonder at how many experiences make up a life. It’s easy to imagine him adding new stories and new verses to “Cyclades” as he gets older and gathers more experiences.
Meek, who is better known as the guitarist for Big Thief than as a solo artist, specializes in a philosophical strain of songwriting, one that is still personal but not necessarily confessional. His songs aren’t merely vessels for stories, but prompts for reminiscences, tools to stir up the dust in the darker corners of his mind. Haunted Mountain, his third solo album, is full of songs about getting lost and finding yourself, about the pleasure of disorientation and the new perspective reorientation can bring. He gets lost in memories, in daydreams. He gets lost on a mountain, in the eyes and kisses of a lover. Meek sings the title track like he’s lost his way and is happier for it: “Now that I live here on this haunted mountain/I know I’m never coming down.” He co-wrote the song with fellow Texan Jolie Holland, who was inspired by Mount Shasta in northern California, but really that haunted mountain could be anywhere in “this green land.”
Meek’s guitar is always closely attuned to vocals, whether his own or Adrianne Lenker’s. He rarely calls attention to himself, but he values texture and complementary rhythms over big riffs or lightning licks. In the past his songs have rambled, mostly foregoing verse-chorus-verse in favor of stream-of-consciousness. Perhaps due to Holland’s contributions, Haunted Mountain is his fullest and most structured album. He and his band amble through these songs with… well, not more purpose or focus, which are anathema to getting lost. But listen to the coda of “Didn’t Know You Then,” which stretches out before losing its way. There’s a joy in the aimlessness of that ending, in not knowing where the music is taking them.
Meek has described Haunted Mountain as a collection of love songs, about half of which he wrote about his relationship with the person who became his wife. He can be insightful in this mode, as on “Secret Side,” when he realizes he must let her grieve rather than comfort her. In its direct expression of a hard truth, the song sounds indebted to Big Thief’s recent tourmate, Lucinda Williams. Elsewhere, his sentiments are sweet yet overly scripted, which makes it hard to get truly lost in the music. “Paradise” sounds like it’s based on a bad pickup line: “Tell me about living in the afterlife,” he sings, because he sees “heaven in your eyes.” On “Didn’t Know You Then,” Meek maps out their relationship in kisses: “Our first kiss felt like home/With tears in our eyes/And now, one thousand kisses later/Each one feels like the first time.” It’s dreamy and romantic, but it doesn’t sound like an actual lived experience or even an unbelievable story. It sounds like something you’d hear in a love song.
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