Chicago-based noise-rockers blend commotion with a light touch
PITH is a benevolent shot of adrenaline, equal parts forceful and sweet. For the people who normally disregard noise rock, the album’s subtle passages will offer pleasant surprises. For the punk diehards, Melkbelly’s musical DNA can still be traced back to the fervent energy of grunge legends like Courtney Love. Thankfully, the split personality of this record doesn’t feel like the result of a compromise; rather, it’s a sign that this Chicago-based band – which is fronted by guitarist and lead singer Miranda Winters – can deftly squeeze numerous quirks together in a way that makes sense. PITH is made for music fans who want to stand on their toes and still keep their balance.
Melkbelly’s latest LP is neither an improvement upon nor a step down from their 2017 debut, Nothing Valley; it is merely a continuation of what they’ve been doing right. The band had good ideas right out of the gate, and they’ve wisely chosen to uphold their standards. With free rein, the musicians behind Melkbelly continues to explore familiar, but invigorating, terrain. PITH’s opener, “THC,” is a whip-smart example of how the band refuses to let an opportunity slip by, even in a window as brief as five minutes. The song’s first half is coated with a feisty charisma, supplementing Winters’ nimble voice with hammering guitars. Melkbelly never quite ties itself down to one tempo, leaving “THC” just enough room to trek down an unpredictable and unrestrained path. Seamlessly, the track spins out into an electrical storm, paving the way for James Wetzel to showcase his commanding presence behind the drum set. The instruments take precedence over the lyrics here, although it would be fitting if the song were about a guy who accidentally drops a brick on the gas pedal at a red light.
Melkbelly’s contagious energy is probably what earned the band opening gigs ahead of Protomartyr and The Breeders, who are fellow noise-lovers themselves. What’s refreshing is that Melkbelly thinks through its seemingly impromptu jam sessions; songs like “LCR” harbor pure commotion, but even when they risk getting a little messy, the group’s trajectory snaps back onto a more confident course. Certainly, not every song on PITH is meant to inspire head-banging, and in fact, some of the album’s highlights are its mellow moments. “Humid Heart” begins with a disarmingly easygoing refrain, while the good-natured “Little Bug” is the closest Melkbelly has gotten to making a bedroom pop cut. The band’s character emerges in these understated flashes, more so than if PITH had simply been a series of relentless drumming sprees.
Above all, the album feels cohesive and stable. When the beat frantically skips from a lowkey shuffle to a manic frenzy on “Humid Heart,” you might not even give it a second thought. A band as dynamic as Melkbelly can only be as good as its transitions, and these noise-rockers are doing everything short of owning a magic wand.