Snakefarm Records is a noticeably blues-rock subsidiary of the heavy metal Spinefarm label, boasting such luminaries on its roster as Billy Gibbons, George Thorogood, Tyler Bryant, and the Temperance Movement among others. This should give a bit of an indication of the abilities of up-and-coming Texan Austin Meade. Abstract Art of an Unstable Mind is his third full album, and his second with Snakefarm (after Black Sheep in 2021), and it’s a concept album of sorts, with the songs woven around the soundtrack of a 24-hour independent radio station. The album opens with a spoken sketch of an overnight DJ putting out a big introduction to the morning show, then having to subtly prod his sleeping successor awake in order for him to take over. We are then treated to 14 songs, interspersed with various other scenes from the station as it plays through the day.
This is not a blues album though by any means, neither is it a hard rock album. It’s rock for sure, presented with a lot of distorted guitar and attitude, but the focus is rather on the lyrics than on the rhythm. It soon become apparent that the characters in Meade’s world are mostly pretty unpleasant, either hitting on other people’s wives, planning revenge for some personal slight, or having meltdowns in restaurants. In fact this is part of the concept, as not only are the songs tied in with the radio station to some extent, but they are also tied in with each other – three of the numbers (and especially their videos), Varsity Type, Red Roof Estates and Rosé Romance, are a kind of continuous narrative, following the development of the characters from their late teens into early adulthood, and showing how they deal (or fail to deal) with life’s complications. It’s almost multi-media in fact, as the songs make a lot more sense when experienced through the videos; the songs are all written and sung by Meade, but the videos make it more obvious who is saying what, and it’s clear we’re not supposed to identify with the baddies. Meade presents himself in his promotional material as a character on the fringe of sanity, hence the album title, and the cover art shown at the top of this page – Meade is scrawling the album title in pink paint across the wall, and the paint-spatters on his face give him the appearance of a spotty teenager. He explains that the unstable mind is his, and the album is an item of abstract art.
The disturbingly-titled opening track, Violation Delight, features one of our seamy characters musing over his fantasies, both vengeful and sexual, culminating with the repeated line, “It feels so good to f*** you over,” towards the end. Red Roof Estates continues in a similar tacky vein, while Sinner Of The City follows the fortunes of a wealthy guy, (for some reason Gordon Gecko from Wall Street comes to mind), being stood up on a date, and then failing to get off with the waitress as well. The next two songs are two perspectives on the same theme, the more tuneful soul ballad Late Night Letdown and the increasingly grimy Queen Of The Letdown, but are separated by another sketch from the DJ booth, as a disgruntled presenter quits, live on air.
The four-letter invective flows thick and fast throughout, but it only starts to become apparent just how far Meade has his tongue wedged into his cheek about now; another radio station sketch takes the form of one of the DJs interviewing the naïve, young Austin Meade on his show; the kid fails to make an impression and is unceremoniously brushed off by the presenter, who makes some cuttingly personal remarks about him before introducing the song Varsity Type. This number takes the shape of a melodic pop-rock number, it’s musically entertaining, but doesn’t really paint anyone involved in university life in a good light.
From now on though, it starts to get a bit more wholesome as the day turns full circle; the late-night DJ introduces the show we started with, and most of the album occurs during his tenure. We get the impression that Meade is singing about himself in Loser Mentality – it’s actually a really tuneful and enjoyable song, and although the protagonist is plagued with self-doubt, he seems like a decent kind of guy. Take A Trip tips over into Foo Fighters territory, if at the slower end of their spectrum, and Dial Tone stays in that vicinity with a great, hooky guitar rhythm.
It’s only now that the album starts to go more upbeat, with the finger-picked acoustic guitar intro of Abstract Art morphing through various changes into a complex and interesting musical and lyrical arrangement. At one point, the rhythm guitar comprises two guitars playing alternating chords from each side of the stereo pan, which is great under headphones. This is the best song on the album by miles for this listener, although Quicksand keeps the bar high – OK, it’s a song about desperate, crushing depression, but it stays musically upbeat, and we get a rare guitar solo too.
Darker Shade of Blue is almost pure pop, a take on the Red Hot Chilli Peppers maybe, but with grungy guitars that build to an almost symphonic climax. These last few songs come across almost like bonus tracks, seemingly disconnected to the rest of the album, but then, maybe that’s intentional, given the general theme. Forever Unfaithful is somewhat experimental, with strange, discordant chords gradually giving way to a decent bit of rock in another album highlight, and then the whole thing is rounded off with an excellent rocking closer in Rain Dancin’.
OK, I’ll admit that accompanying these nasty hoods through their nasty hood is not really my favourite way to spend my time. But I have to give credit to Meade for conjuring up this atmosphere with such skill and panache, and also for the self-deprecating way he takes a swipe at himself at various points. His mind may, indeed, be unstable, but his musical ability is rock-solid.