Dark Meat is a hard band to fit into a category — or, for that matter, a room.

The swollen rock ‘n’ roll cavalcade (the word “band” feels too small), now slimmed to a svelte nine members, supplies the dense, free-form, psychedelic sing-along that mastermind Jim McHugh uses as a vehicle for his songs. McHugh’s vocal inflections — Iggy-Pop-meets-Richard-Hell-in-King-Khan’s-garage — intertwine with wind instruments, taking cues from Burt Bacharach and the E-Street Band. There are Nuggets and Flaming Lips guitars, and bold improv that would be more in line with a Chicago band. But Dark Meat is from Athens, Ga.

For a time — and before Dark Meat’s recorded debut, Universal Indians — the band claimed some 15-20 regular members, but its overgrown roster reflected overgrown ideas and often muddied the sound, even as it highlighted the collective, participatory ideals fueling this maximalist aesthetic.

With last year’s Truce Opium, though, Dark Meat’s mass doesn’t seem any lighter — space is still a scarcity the nine players must scratch, squawk, and claw to claim. But this judicious editing in scope has served to improve the band’s whole. McHugh’s voice — even when backed by a chorus of cohorts — rises above the din to draw in listeners. The sonic excursions — like the epic overtone symphony that opens “No One Was There,” for instance — congeal into semi-structured songs and enhance the borderless sound. Middle Eastern tones and African rhythms meet cerebral free jazz and art-rock blooz, but somehow it all still sounds like a sweaty bonfire party.

But again, Dark Meat isn’t about fitting. The band grapples with both composition and improvisation. The songs sprawl but feel compacted, like a crushed car tumbling over a cliff. They make flutes rock like Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson. The only thing that ever seems certain about Dark Meat is that the band’s music is inclusive and ecstatic like an acid-test group hug.


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