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The Melvins: A Senile Animal

http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/9642/the-melvins-a-senile-animal/

The Melvins
A Senile Animal
(Ipecac)
US release date: 10 October 2006
UK release date: 9 October 2006

by Sean G. Murphy

Another year, another great Melvins release.

With considerable confidence, it can be assumed that the following name has never appeared in any review of a Melvins recording: Woody Allen. Perhaps because, for starters, the work and sensibility of that diminutive and reticent filmmaker could not be more opposite from this very aggressive and deliberate band. Plus, one makes movies; the other makes music. And yet, a case could be made that the Melvins are steadily establishing themselves as the Woody Allen of rock and roll: efficient, productive, reliably original, and influential. They churn out new albums at a steady clip which hard core fans snatch up, and most everyone else gives a miss. Like most great things in this world, they are an acquired taste but after they get their hooks in you, it’s on. They are the kind of band you almost hate to love, because once you are on board, you eventually understand you’ll have to own everything they make. And, unlike Allen, the Melvins show no signs of slowing down or slouching toward stale self-imitation as they approach dignified middle age. All of which is to say, their latest release, A Senile Animal, is business as usual, and business is as good as ever, and better than one could reasonably expect, given that this band has been cruising along since the mid-’80s.
The good news is that this album comes highly recommended, and is actually an ideal introduction for neophytes. Which isn’t to say A Senile Animal is exactly accessible; this is the Melvins, after all. Still, if you unfamiliar with their body of work, this is as good a spot as any to jump in and, once converted, start working your way backward through the intimidating catalog. For casual fans (are there any?), there are enough new twists to make this an essential listen: this band burns through bassists the way Spinal Tap did drummers, therefore newcomer Jared Warren joins the fray this time around. And there is a new drummer! (What? How on earth could they ever get rid of Dale Crover? They didn’t! There are two drummers in the new configuration of the band. If that sounds at all gimmicky, disabuse yourself of any misconceptions: it is an inspired move that pays significant dividends.)
The onslaught is immediate, and the new line-up wastes no time flaunting the singular strengths of all involved. Coady Willis, the second drummer, augments the inimitable sludgy framework that Crover has supplied for the last two decades: the first twenty seconds of “The Talking Horse”, with seemingly double everything, drums (crashing cymbals and double-time rolls), actual vocal harmonizing (!!) and the signature slow-mo chainsaw guitar sound of Buzz Osborne (King Buzzo). As “Blood Witch” bleeds into “Civilized Worm” (more vocal harmonies—all four members are credited with vocal contributions, and it’s pleasantly apparent throughout), the drum assault is never flashy, never superfluous, and it is obvious the band made an inspired decision to double a good thing. At the one-minute-46-second mark of the third song (”Civilized Worm”), an authentic Melvins moment occurs: the guitar growl grinds down to mud, a smattering of trash-can rattles and then … nothing; then a pulse—after skipping a beat, the riff returns. Bliss.
Speaking of riffs, let’s talk about King Buzzo for a moment. the Melvins have always drawn comparisons to Black Sabbath, which while complimentary, are a bit lazy and unimaginative. Sabbath certainly had their sound, and spawned a million miniature hair metal monstrosities, but it is to the Melvins’ considerable credit that they’ve carved out their own original, influential sound, something very few bands ever achieve. Tony Iommi, the metal-riff master, had an eight-year run while at the top of his game with Sabbath; Buzz has been pulling oily, oozing riffs out of his ‘fro for more than twice that, and is steadily making a case as one of the indelible, if all-time overlooked guitar gods. Over the top? Spend some time with “A History Of Bad Men” and consider that craftsmanship alongside his incandescent contributions to side project super-group Fantomas: just in this young century, Buzzo has delivered goods that many musicians would kill to call an entire career. It is almost too much to ask for, but King Buzzo is actually getting better with age, and continues to refine and define a sound that is his alone.
If A Senile Animal lacks the effortless intensity of, say, Stoner Witch, it is worth noting that a positive review of that album in 1994 very well may have observed that it did not have the effortless intensity of, say, Bullhead. So, is this a more refined Melvins? Maybe. Or more to the point: who cares? If the pace is a bit brisker here, the old school sludge is very much in effect, alongside the double-drums and layered vocals. Out of several viable candidates, the album’s high point may be the second-to-last track, “The Mechanical Bride”, which calls to mind the sublime “Hag Me” (from Houdini): it’s all in there, the centrifugal force of that muddy undertow—the sound of a band jamming in their own time, as though a collective joint pain forces the pace to roil at its own speed, simmering in its own fevered juices. It is the sound of an impossible pain that somehow feels good. It is the sound of the Melvins.

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Melvins: Nude with Boots (Popmatters.com Review)

Good News! Melvins are back.Melvins are not a band so much as a machine. For almost a quarter of a century they have rumbled and rolled over the earth, leaving a trail for anyone bothering to look, and inventing an entirely new language for anyone able to hear. Hear this: Melvins are at it again, not wasting too much time following up on their last release, 2006’s A Senile Animal. That album was remarkable, and ended up surprising even longtime fans with its variety, and the sheer quality of practically every song. It also managed the semi-impossible, incorporating as it did, more polished edges into the Melvins’ patented sound: a shadowy diffusion that manages to sound glacial and molten, sometimes at the same time.

 

A considerable amount of credit was correctly given to the group’s newest members, bassist/vocalist Jared Warren and drummer Coady Willis—on loan from their other jobs as the demonic duo in the band Big Business. The two drummer/two singer strategy was risky and potentially misguided, but in hindsight, it seems like a no-brainer. The band sounded more invigorated, with the new blood clearly pushing the others—guitarist/singer/mastermind King Buzzo, and drummer extraordinaire Dale Crover—to reinvent ways of distributing similar sludge. It was, in short, a newer take on a tried and true formula, and it yielded spectacular results. The line-up is unchanged this time out, and expectations were high for a return to form, or—if such a thing is reasonably imaginable—an improvement. The bad news: Nude With Boots is not better than A Senile Animal. The good news: it is undeniably a success, albeit on a slightly smaller scale.

Early on in the opening song (“The Kicking Machine”), it’s clear enough that the M.O. from A Senile Animal is in effect: the twin drum assault and the synchronous vocals, and a discernibly enervated pace to the proceedings. More of same on track two (“Billy Fish”)—rolling drums introducing the action, then the always reliable Buzz Osborne unslinging (yawn) yet another nasty, tasty riff. But, like the previous album, it’s on the third track that the band truly locks in. That initial minute is pure Melvins bliss, that familiar, stuttering death crawl, unsettling yet irresistible. Not for the first time, and likely not the last, one cannot help marveling at Buzzo’s brilliance. How does he do it?

How does Buzzo do it? Perhaps it’s because he’s not human. That has to be it. Indeed, it is this fact that it’s a tad disconcerting, at times, to hear him sound like one. Or, to be more precise, hearing a regular human being singing alongside him. Probably because Jared Warren is mixed too high on the harmonies (it sounds, on most songs, like he and Buzzo are at equal volume, which means Warren is, in fact, mixed too high), the songs lose some of their otherwise insistent power when Buzzo’s voice is not front and center. A much better balance was subtly achieved on A Senile Animal, where Warren’s (and on some songs, the others’) voices embellished and accompanied. On Nude With Boots they come dangerously close to interfering. Ultimately, this might well be a matter of taste, and to some ears the novel, “fresher” sound might rate as a positive development.

Along with the occasionally claustrophobic harmonies, there is a little more light and air in several of the songs (the title track, for instance), which causes them to come near to being not only accessible, but even (gasp) catchy. Not to worry, no one is going to confuse the current incarnation of Melvins with, say, Vampire Weekend. Nevertheless, the band has evolved. The more fundamentalist-minded Melvins’ fans might protest—not without justification—that this is the one band that should remain in the muck, neither swimming nor walking, but sort of slithering in the boiling primordial ooze, making their prehistoric noises … like the sounds made on the album’s best track, “Dies Iraea”. Every Melvins album has at least one song that separates itself from the others, and this is it. This is the music playing at that last dinosaur house party before they all toppled drunkenly into the tar pit.

In sum, Melvins fans, do what you need to do. Newcomers might want to check out A Senile Animal, but then again, perhaps this one will make the last one easier to understand, and then it may be more enjoyable working backward. The question persists: how do they do it? Melvins remain a contrary respite from the gumball machine sensibilities of so much modern music: put in a penny, suck on some sugar for a few seconds until it all turns sour. Melvins are already sour, but instead of turning sweet, they do something even more surprising. They remain unsullied. And so, if you hear one of your semi-jaded friends whining about how no good music gets made anymore, you can hold Nude With Boots up as merely the latest example of how good it can still be, even today. And how fortunate we are that this band continues to thrive, sucking on the carcass of banality and spitting out gold.

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12/12/12: 12 Songs for the Apocalypse

It’s not the end of the world, and I feel fine.

But if it was, I would want all these songs to accompany me as we spiraled down the metaphysical drain.

I’d go into battle, or into oblivion, with these soldiers by my side.

Let’s begin, appropriately, at the end, with the boys from Birmingham: if we can’t sustain life here, let’s blast off and “Find another world where freedom waits (yeah)!”

Once the wind begins to howl, as long as I’m riding shotgun with Hendrix, I’m good:

Ian Anderson, of course, called this way back in ’79:

If you’re getting snuffed out anyway, you may as well make sure you say I LOVE YOU to whoever needs to hear it:

If the shit is going down, I’m bringing both barrels, which means I’m blasting The Melvins.

Starless and Bible Black. Any other questions?

And what exactly is a dream? And what exactly is a joke?

Bauhaus. Because.

Before I sink into the big sleep I want to hear the scream of the butterfly!

Nothing, even the end of the world, can be as deep or dark as the hard time killing floor blues:

If it gets beyond World War III, I know Mikey Dread is waiting patiently on the other side:

All kidding aside, if it’s scorched earth time, let me hide in the peaceful shadow of the Gentle Giant:

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