Pedigree is usually meaningless in rock music -- were it not so, you'd have bought Mick Jagger's Goddess in the Doorway, but SoundScan says that you probably didn't. If anything, past successes turn hungry artists into bloated laurel-resters. So when you hear that Eyes Adrift is a band from Austin featuring the Meat Puppets' Curt Kirkwood, Nirvana's Krist Novoselic and Sublime's Bud Gaugh, chances are you're a little suspicious of the whole enterprise.
The good news -- the surprisingly great news -- is that Eyes Adrift is a truly wonderful record, a muted, elegant, often melancholy joy from stem to stern. One hesitates to drag too much of an artist's personal travails into a discussion of his work, but the connecting thread between the players here is loss (Novoselic and Gaugh have both seen their friends and bandmates die senseless deaths, while the demise of Kirkwood's brother Cris is a grisly work-in-progress), and the feeling that saturates the album is one of meditative resignation. Kirkwood's much-missed guitar swathes each song in richly textured sheets of sound, while his melodies, always distinct, have the offhanded assurance of an old master. The three play together with an unaffected familiarity, locked into Kirkwood's unique sense of groove, easing weightlessly into instrumental passages by turns lovely and haunting. Of the twelve songs here, no fewer than five are flat-out gorgeous, with the opening "Sleight of Hand," the quietly pained "Untried" and the smouldering "Telescope" meriting special mention: How can anyone familiar with the rags-to-riches-to-tatters story of the Meat Puppets hear a lyric like "Every morning, put the radio on/I'm not going to sit around here and cry until you're gone" without wincing in sympathy? There are peaks both exquisite and excruciating all over Eyes Adrift, an excitingly good album from a new band full of old hands, and an unexpected late-in-the-year delight. Outstanding. (Eyes Adrift perform at Blueberry Hill's Duck Room on Thursday, October 17.)