Album review: Tyson Meade — Tomorrow in Progress 

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Tyson Meade has nothing to prove.

He might not be a household name (outside of his home state of Oklahoma, at least), but his influence on the scope of alternative music is just as indelible as that of Lou Reed, David Bowie or Morrissey.

Meade’s work in Oklahoma’s own Defenestration and Chainsaw Kittens proved immensely influential on both Kurt Cobain and Billy Corgan, and it’s not all that big of a leap to suggest that Nevermind and Siamese Dream (two of the most important albums of the ’90s) might not even exist — at least not in the capacity we know them — if it hadn’t been for the creative guidance that Meade’s music provided its creators.

And between Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins, you have Meade’s legacy drawn through to nearly every alternative rock band out there today ... consciously or not.

That’s likely why he felt content to let Chainsaw Kittens go to bed in 2000, releasing a second solo album, Kitchens and Bathrooms, in 2008 (after Motorcycle Childhood in ’96) before moving to Shanghai, where he taught for a number of years, satisfied with the legacy he left behind.

For all this, Tomorrow In Progress has nothing to prove either. It’s the product of a pure love of music, not drawn from personal torment or an obsessive drive. To quote a certain early Adam Sandler vehicle, it seems born out of “a happy place.”

Late career comebacks tend to flop like a fish out of water, overreaching for the past due artistic or commercial benchmarks. But Meade feels right at home with this centered, comfortable collection of very good songs.

It’s a deserved victory lap after a grueling race he has already won.

Tomorrow In Progress — and the rebirth of Meade as an artist — has its roots in an encounter with violin prodigy Haffijy back in Shangai, and Meade brings more notable friends in on the party as well: Jimmy Chamberlain and Nicole Fiorentino (Smashing Pumpkins), Derek Brown (The Flaming Lips), Trent Bell (Chainsaw Kittens) and Jesse Tabish (Other Lives).

There’s a significant pedigree brought into the record, and its musicality is off-the-charts good. But craftsmanship means little if there’s not a solid idea to build on, and Meade’s wryly demented glam-pop genius is as strong as ever.

Opener “Nihilists Need Love Too” matches wits with the best heavily orchestrated pop songs of the ’70s. The saucy “Kiss Me Arabia,” meanwhile, bounces with the same attitude of lauded weirdo-pop act Deerhunter, and its theatrical follow- up “Flying Through Our Skins” is equally gripping.

Tomorrow shines brightest in its most radical, bizarre moments (“Mao Into Madame Mao Into Marvin Gaye,” “Chinese Space Station Worker (Ramona’s Song)”). But even the safer turns (“When We Were,” “Buddy Dash,” “Winter Boys Cutting the Rug”) are just as formidable and boast some breakout appeal to boot.

There’s nothing groundbreaking about Tomorrow In Progress, but that time came and went anyway. Instead, it serves as a reminder of just why Meade is referred to by some as the Godfather of Alternative Rock — and that he won’t soon let you forget it.

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