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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Album Review: The Melvins – Freak Puke

If ever there was a band with a tentacular reach it would be The Melvins. Attributed with kicking off the sludge scene in the early ’80s, the number of gnarly bands who will have been influenced by them by now must be in their thousands. With the full Melvins line-up still forging ever onward, founders vocalist/guitarist Buzz Osborne and drummer Dale Crover have taken a side-step for Freak Puke to team up with bassist Trevor Dunn (Mr. Bungle, Tomahawk, Fantômas). The album cover attributes the artist as being The Melvins yet, as I understand it, the project has been cringingly-monikered Melvins-Lite, which sounds like some dodgy can of fizz. The music they are hammering out appears to follow the pattern of most Melvins material with plenty of familiar ground being covered, so don’t worry about taking any wild leaps of faith here.

Dunn’s enigmatic stand-up bass is the project’s twist and he’s there at every turn, be it helping to drive the track addictively forward with groovy finger-circling patterns or merely playing the fool. He gets to show off his range for the track ‘Baby, Won’t You Weird Me Out’ as Buzz and Dale stick him up front and centre. Initially he’s let loose with the bow, wrenching it across his instrument like he’s trying to saw it in half, but soon enough he chooses to tug at his strings which unites the trio so can they have a good old jam together. This sets the pace and establishes the album’s true direction.

With Buzz offering up sludgy, scathing guitar lines and Dale letting loose his pounding stickwork we’re marched neatly into these gritty verses and melodic, harmonised choruses. Dunn slots in sweetly, occasionally powering up with dissonance, injecting untold depth for a few bars or walking his way high up the fretboard. With the band offering up a real mixture of stylistic content there’s that sense of boundless abandon that usually frequents Melvins albums. There are doses of gunge-streaked, heavy-lidded blues for killer tracks like ‘A Growing Disgust’ and the Paul McCartney & Wings cover, ‘Let Me Roll It’, there’s a spot of doom and gloom about ‘Holy Barbarians’ and, oddly, the 10-minute shoegaze-rock-freakout of ‘Tommy Goes Berserk’, and there are licks of splatter’ n’ roll that ignite the gobby title track and the monstrous ‘Leon vs. The Revolution’, where Buzz steps up to the plate by ramping up his vocal to the point of disintegration. They have never been a band that you can trust to conform and that’s just how we like them…

…up to a point. They’re always prepared to go one step further than I, for one, wish they would, and here they make an attempt to obliterate the structures with a few experimental surprises. There’s the disconcertingly realistic, splitting wood effect, the rebounding cornball vocal samples and the maddeningly frequent blasts of feedback. These all pale into insignificance next to the moments when they hand the baton over to Dunn to seek out tuneless, cosmic anomalies with his bowed-string action (he gets the troublesome ‘Inner Ear Rupture’ all to himself); that’s everything from churning out deep, long whale sounds to the sound of a thousand crawling insects. Novel or novelty? I’d suggest a bit of both.

If Melvins-Lite really was a beverage, it would be loaded with guarana to boost you for prolonged bouts of rocking out. Of course, there’d be side-effects, some of which would most likely include paranoid delusions or the odd wild flashback – the point is it would definitely come with a Governmental health warning attached. Naturally, I’d be the one clearing the shelves; chugging it down like it was going out of fashion.

Also online @ TLOBF = http://www.thelineofbestfit.com/reviews/albums/the-melvins-freak-puke-91041
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