Another Melvins Album
Where does one start with the Melvins? The band is a venerable titan, situated at the boundary of grungy alternative rock and doom/stoner/sludge metal. Venerable indeed – anchored by singer-guitarist Buzz “King Buzzo” Osborne and drummer Dale Crover, the band has released more than 20 studio albums since 1987, and even had a hand in guiding some guy named Kurt Cobain toward a career in loud, punky music.
The Melvins are legendary in the heavy underground, but to newcomers, they can be frustratingly opaque. The sheer size of their discography makes “where does one start with the Melvins?” a truly baffling question. It seems that the Melvins have never really had a big hit song, or a stunning album. This is not to say their music isn’t well-crafted and often memorable – because it usually is – but there’s no simple litmus test for determining whether one will like the Melvins or not. The Melvins’ disposition toward appearing both relentlessly droll and dourly humorless at the same time creates a further sense of insularity. This may be a reach, but the Melvins seem like a sort of heavy music Velvet Underground – beloved by fans and fellow musicians, poorly understood by outsiders, and skilled enough to launch and influence hundreds, if not thousands of young musicians with their craft.
New LP Hold It In features yet another Melvins lineup variation (one of many – see Wikipedia), with former Butthole Surfers Jeff Pinkus and Paul Leary contributing vocals, bass and guitar, and possibly some oddball psychedelic touches to the album. Opener “Bride of Crankenstein” is vintage Melvins, with chunky riffs, hard drumming and bitter, tongue-in-cheek bluesy vocals contributing to the restive chug. However, the next song, “You Can Make Me Wait,” throws things for a weird loop. Lite-rock with breathy vocoder vocals emerges incongruously from the speakers. The song proceeds to its conclusion straight-faced, like a long joke with no punch line.
The distance between the first two songs illustrates the odd variations that characterize Hold It In. “Brass Cupcake” is somewhere in between the two, offering slightly-off radio-rock, with strange lyrics, boisterous backup bellows and a rhythmically interesting coda that bleeds into the pleasantly trippy psychedelic whooshings and backmaskings of “Barcelonian Horseshoe Pit.” There may be some Butthole Surfers influence here, (the mooing voices at the end of “Barcelonian” sound uncannily like the end of Locust Abortion Technician) and that’s good. “The Bunk Up”, “Onions Make the Milk Taste Bad” and “House of Gasoline” also have loosely structured sections that fare well, giving the songs interesting texture and giving the listener a chance to just drift a bit.
Other Odd ducks include “Eyes On You” – a bitter satire in the guise of bouncy 1950s-style drive-in rock that skewers the US government’s surveillance policies – and almost hearkens back to the Jelvins. “I Get Along (Hollow Moon)” is a suave, kooky rockabilly strut, and just generally a cool song.
Hold It In is an interesting, but somewhat confounding record. There are strong whiffs of Butthole Surfers and Ween here, but those bands usually did more to let their audiences know it was okay to laugh. What humor is present on Hold It In is buried a bit deeper. Recommending this record over any other Melvins record would be an exercise in futility. At this point, there may be a bit of choir-preaching going on anyways; Melvins fans will buy and love this album, because it’s a Melvins album. However, those not already convinced should take this opportunity to see what all the hubbub is about, because Hold It In is ultimately a strong record, and there are dozens more where it came from.