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The Melvins – [Album]

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Thursday, 17 June 2010

Oh, what a strange race Buzz Osborne and The Melvins have run. Since first appearing on the popular radar as “the band Nirvana looked up to” and grinding out a peculiar, Concentrated strain of grunge that actually teetered on the line between “grunge” and “sewage” to spontaneously evolving into a metal band around 1999, listeners have never exactly known what they can expect next, but know enough to walk into each successive record with eyebrows already raised. 2008's Nude With Boots found the band finally hammering the finishing touches into their toxic stew of grind-grunge and Eighties metal with loose sprinklings of Sabbath-y stoner rock interspersed  so anyone familiar with the band's previous working procedures knew to expect something completely different on whatever might come next, but no one could have possibly guessed that it would sound like The Bride Screamed Murder.

From the very beginning of the metallic but vocally driven and syncopated opening track, “The Water Glass,” things get very weird for The Melvins and listeners that thought they had the band pigeonholed. Listeners will be completely confused and wonder what the hell they're hearing as drummer Dale Crover winds up an imposing military march over which Osborne (joined by drummer Coady Willis and bassist Jared Warren) to issue gang call-and-response vocals that sound a lot like Drill Sergeant commands or a varsity football team trying to psyche itself up for a big game. Coming from The Melvins, such collegiate posturing will be disorienting to listeners, but it will also keep them hypnotized; on the list of things that any fan would have expected of The Melvins, “The Water Glass” would never appear. The going doesn't get any more normal as the tinkling bells of “Evil New War God” sound and are then dropped into guitar figures reminiscent of Tom Morello's work with Rage Against The Machine and some synths imply an undeniably gothic angle.

What the hell is the band doing here?

“Pig House” is the pay-off that makes The Melvins' desired goal with The Bride Screamed Murder clear; on this album, the band has taken every classic rock moment they can think of – from “Stonehenge” style drumming to very Rush-ish prog rock theatrics to their own permutation of Queen's Greek chorus vocals to the attenuated displays that only grunge was able to make anthemic – and combined them all into a surprisingly seamless amalgam. Even more surprising is that it actually works! On The Bride Screamed Murder, not only do The Melvins illustrate that they have the chops (both vocal and instrumental) to pull off an enormous production like this, but they also prove they can do it without losing one ounce of themselves to the process. At every turn through songs including “Electric Flower,” “Hospital Up” and “Inhumanity And Death,” listeners will be shocked that the band is able to pull these dramatic shifts off but, not only that, pull them off and still sound like The Melvins. Osborne, for example, has never been known for his singing but he performs melodies assumed to be well beyond his ability incredibly well here; in the same vein, Crover's drums have never been as consistent OR adventurous as they are here. Finally, Warren issues a set of lines in songs like the cover of “My Generation” and “Pig House” that actually propel the proceedings forward rather than just holding them down. All of these elements qualify as the stuff that listeners couldn't have expected of this band. Who would have thought that, after almost thirty years plumbing the sub-basement of every sound they've attempted, The Melvins would be capable of making a record of even close to the quality that The Bride Screamed Murder flaunts? That this band is able to knock listeners for a loop as they do here isn't just a commendable effort, it is a marvelous achievement. Bravo.

Artist:

www.melvins.com/

www.themelvins.net/
www.myspace.com/themelvins

Download:

The Melvins – “Evil New War God” – The Bride Screamed Murder

Album:

The Bride Screamed Murder
is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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The Melvins – [Album]

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Thursday, 15 October 2009

Historically, the nature of the remix album has always been bound by a surprisingly rigid set of guidelines in spite of boasting a relatively free-form design. Usually, the tracks that comprise a remix set break down very simply: see band's original song, see producer and his big bag of tricks, see producer apply contents of said bag to the song in question while carefully striking a balance that enhances or alters the base track and makes it sound obviously different, but is still recognizable as being cut from the same celebrated cloth. As simple and kind of silly as it sounds, the results can occasionally be kind of cool (see Jane's Addiction's 7” remix of “Been Caught Stealing” that actually wins more radio play than the original recording now) or they can be really horrid because, invariably, some fan will point out that the best parts of the song were ripped out or the producer added too much. This is usually true – lots of remixes do suck – but my assumption has always been that the reason for it is because the results of a remix session offer little more than fluffy and impressionistic third-person replicas of someone else's music; the producer mixing was not privy to the motivations of the band while they were originally recording, so how could they hope to do that work justice?

While it might sound contrary, The Melvins' remix album, Chicken Switch, is different. For this album, thirteen musicians weren't just handed a single song and asked to artfully adorn it with electronics, they were handed as much source material from The Melvins' songbook as they wanted and asked to get as creative as they wanted in creating something new from their source material selections; essentially being asked to create a series of sound collages from any and as much Melvins material as they liked.

The easiest (and most ironic) way to characterize the results on Chicken Switch is that they're, well, mixed. With carte blanche as far as instruction and selections were concerned, everyone involved went their own way which means there is little (if any) connective tissue between the songs and, beyond that, most of them are senselessly aggressive, caustic and formless. There are no tracks on Chicken Switch that are recognizable as vocals are jettisoned nearly wholesale in favor of added attention being paid to the more textural (read: abrasive feedback) elements of the songs. The results are hard to listen to and, really, even harder to define as the formless mass that is Christoph Heeman's take on “Emperor Twaddle” reverts to a sort of primal musique concrete and the droning (literally) beehive of David Scott Stone's “Prick Concrete/Revolution M” aborts before really going anywhere. In cases like that (and there are others too that are more caustic and electronic), the work comes off as a matter of concept taken too far as, with little (if any) similarity present between any of the source material and the final mixes, the tracks fall flat because there are no possible comparisons to make or frame of reference to find. Elsewhere, Lee Ranaldo attempts to sum up and mix up the spirit of The Melvins' music with a three-movement “Eggnog Trilogy” that rekindles the fires of The Melvins in the late Eighties and early Nineties and rips it apart to make it very “Sonic Youth”and modal, and Matmos attempts to apply some very earthy tones and sparse beats to “Linkshander” with fairly sublime results. Particularly with The Melvins as a source, one would think that creating a decent mix that both reflects the band and the producer wouldn't be rocket science but, really, there isn't a soul involved with Chicken Switch that doesn't make it sound like hard work.

Ironically, the songs that do the best on Chicken Switch are the ones that run closest to run-of-the-mill remixes. In the case of “Queen,” for example, Panacea re-envisions The Melvins as an electro-clash outfit which works well in its contrast of electronic beats and Buzz Osborne's hyper-masculine vocals and, further, the new age synths that Sunroof! Employs on “The Silky Apple Butter Of Youth” are comical in their totally inappropriate representation of the band; they are a nice reprieve from the clinking, clanking, clattering clamor  created elsewhere by Kawabata Makoto, Eye Yamatsuka and Merzbow. Does that redeem the record? Not really, but in a static storm like this, listeners will searh desperately for any port.

Band:

www.melvins.com/

www.myspace.com/themelvins

Album:

Chicken Switch
is out now. Buy it on Amazon .

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The Melvins – [Album]

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Saturday, 21 June 2008

Anybody with their heads in the underground when grunge erupted from the Pacific Northwest like Mount Ves-who-cares in the early 90s has a fuzzy memory of The Melvins. For those that came late to the party even back then, The Melvins were the band that coulda, shoulda, woulda made it but wound up the bush-league Nirvana instead—Melvins drummer Dale Crover even filled the drum seat before Dave Grohl joined. In addition to that, singer/guitarist Buzz Osborne has found success in his spare time away from The Melvins with Mike Patton in Fantomas. Needless to say, since they started twenty-four years ago, The Melvins have made strides individually, but together the band is still regarded as the good (but not great) grunge band that never made it.

Because of that, the clichés don’t exactly apply; Nude With Boots can’t be called a comeback because The Melvins never left (in fact, 2006’s (A) Senile Animal garnered the best response of any album the band has ever released) and it isn’t bad because, well, these are some of the best-written songs the band has ever released. But, by the same token, it probably won’t be the album that turns The Melvins into arena headliners or mega stars because it couldn’t be construed as a mainstream contender on a bet.

So what could Nude With Boots mean for The Melvins? It’s simply a very, very good record by alt-rock’s most criminally under-appreciated, underrated band.

You wouldn’t know it from note one though. Nude With Boots opens ominously with “The Kicking Machine”—a song that, if it was the only one you heard from the album, would have you swearing The Melvins finally gave in and accepted the (unjustified) comparisons to Black Sabbath that they’ve garnered for years. “The Kicking Machine” tries for a designer impostor slab of Dio-era Sabbath badness and falls short of even that; leading even diehard fans to believe that they shouldn’t expect much. Happily though, the band recovers immediately with “Billy Fish” which finds them in the finest form.

The sludgy swing of tracks including “Dog Island,” “Suicide In Progress,” “The Smiling Cobra,” the title track (which is a great showcase of the band’s current, two-drummer line-up that almost finds the band venturing into Rush country) and “The Stupid Creep” trump everything the band has done previously in its entire career and more than makes up for less lucid moments like “Dies Iraea,” “Flush” and “The Kicking Machine” too. Osborne’s vocals have actually improved in tone; no longer growling and snapping awkwardly metered stanzas, the singer delivers even-pitched and better toned lines than he’s ever been able to before and he now dominates the mixes with an authority he has scarcely ever dared to attempt previously.

This is now two albums in a row that The Melvins have been able to surprise a listener base that thought it had the band pegged and written off. Could it be that they’ve finally hit a stride? Maybe—late bloomers aren’t unheard of.

Artist:
www.melvins.com
www.myspace.com/themelvins

Album:
Melvins – Nude With Boots will be out July 8, 2008, on Ipecac. Pre-Order NOW on Amazon!

Download:
Melvins – "Nude With Boots" – [mp3]

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