Monday, September 12, 2016

A Non-chronological and Totally Incomplete Listicle of Melvins Highpoints

Posted By on Mon, Sep 12, 2016 at 11:53 AM

click to enlarge the-melvins-promo-2016.jpg

...as well as something to accompany the preview profile feature I wrote in this week's print issue of The Flyer. 

“Youth of America” (B-side to 2010's Sludge Glamorous 12” EP and 2nd track on 2001's live Electroretard album)

The total number of live recordings in the official Melvins discography is collectively ten times the size of most bands’ entire output. And like the entire catalog, it can be a minefield of alienating middle-fingers to the curious novice. This live cover of The Wipers’ untouchable slice of early-80s American post-punk approaches the ten-minute mark just like the reactionary (against the under-a-minute hardcore “rule” of the day) original.

Considering the shared Pacific Northwest region of origin and the Melvins’ array of not-so-hidden influences that have nothing to do with hard-rock, metal or heaviness (like the Throbbing Gristle fixation that recurs throughout the band’s discography), it should come as no surprise that this is a loyal yet improved-upon treatment of one of the best songs by a groundbreaking and inspirational band that probably touched the nascent incarnation of the trio in real time. One of the better stage-to-record translations of the double-drummer, Big Business-appended four-piece lineup of the Melvins. 

“A History of Bad Men” (from 2006’s (A) Senile Animal album)

Perhaps you recall being glued to the mid-season stride hit by HBO’s True Detective and wondering “What is that playing in the background?” during the scene in which the protagonists attempt to infiltrate a terrifyingly authentic roadhouse bar that doubled as an open-air meth market. Inserted into the scenes as if it came from whatever band might be playing on the stage that the viewer never sees, this six-and-some-odd minutes of perfect doom-metal riffery and vocal hooks is immediately infectious. “A History of Bad Men” showcases a Melvins newly-re-energized by, and thoroughly utilizing, the then-new incorporation of Big Business’ Coady Willis (formerly of Murder City Devils and Dead Low Tide) and Jared Warren (formerly of Karp, Tight Bros From Way Back When, and The Whip). 
“Hospital Up” (from 2010’s The Bride Screamed Murder album)
 Please keep in mind that I am including this song based on what happens before the 4:10 mark, when a typically-Melvins curveball is thrown with an abrupt shift into free-jazz for the final minute-plus. Leading up to this silliness however, “Hospital Up” stands as one of the poppier, dare I say, prettier songs that retains the band’s primary heaviness and other defining elements.
“You Can Make Me Wait” (from 2014’s Hold It In album)
The Hold It In album sees Osborne and Crover joined by Butthole Surfers’ Jeff Pinkus on bass and Paul Leary on guitar, and while “You Can Make Me Wait” isn’t the first time the Melvins have ventured into electronic pop territory or just decided to blindside fans with whatever the hell they felt like doing at the time, it's easily one of the best and most infectious. Like some of 1999’s Bootlicker album, this song bears more than a passing resemblance to some of the best pop made by Ween, another wildly-prolific unit with a legacy that has more similarities to that of the Melvins than one might think.

Gluey Porch Treatments
(1986)

This is technically the Melvins’ first full-length album, though there’s now several album’s worth of material that predates this release in the form of Eps, 7”s and unearthed demo recordings that date back to 1983. And while the Melvins had already dipped a toe in slow, heavy and plodding songwriting structures, it wasn’t nearly as fascinatingly bizarre, huge or as ground-breaking as this album, namely in a hindsight-improved context of the mid-80s American post-hardcore, crossover and underground metal environment into which it was released.

That being stated, it has aged wonderfully (probably due to how long it has taken the rest of the world to catch up to what was going on here) and is absolutely unlike anything else that was happening at the time. Gluey Porch Treatments is the first Melvins release to really spread the incorrect sonic reputation of “slowest and heaviest band in the land” despite the album featuring plenty of “blisteringly-fasted and heaviest band in the land” moments throughout. 1989’s better-known and more critically-acclaimed Ozma album is an extension of this album and both were rereleased together on CD.

“Night Goat” (1992 7” single on Amphetamine Reptile, slightly rerecorded version from 1993’s Houdini album)

 This “signature” song is actually unlike much of what the press and fans had framed as the “Melvins’ sound” up to this point in history. Instead of the absolutely massive guitar riffs that guitarist Buzz Osbourne had learned how to stretch, pull, layer, compress, or otherwise manipulate into any song structure imaginable, the guitar creates sheets of noise that undulate in and out of the bass riff that is the song’s real backbone. After appearing on 1989’s Ozma, 1991’s Eggnog EP and Bullhead LP, bassist Lori Black (Shirley Temple’s daughter, Buzz Osborne’s then-girlfriend, formerly of San Fran metal-punks Clown Alley, and musically credited as “Lorax”) makes one of her final recorded appearances with the band on this song.

“Night Goat” was originally released as the A-side to a 7” single on 90s noise-rock clearing house Amphetamine Reptile (this would begin a long on-and-off relationship with the label that continues to this day) in 1992 and then resurfaced in a slightly rerecorded version as the second track on the excellent Houdini album the following year.

"The Green Manalishi (With the Two-Pronged Crown)" (from 1999’s The Maggot album)

Not to bely the strength of Melvins originals by getting all cover-heavy with this list, but this interpretation of “The Green Manalishi (With the Two-Pronged Crown)” - originally released in 1970 as one of the final songs penned by a drug-skewed Peter Green during his final days in Fleetwood Mac - strikes a perfect balance between reverence of the source material and a cover remade in the mold of the interpreter. It’s also the centerpiece of the especially-strong and intense 1999 album, The Maggot, released as the first in a trilogy that would find the band returning to dominance after issuing some willingly alienating and spottier releases during the 2 – 3 years that followed the three great major label albums that appeared between 1993 – 1996.

Lysol
(aka Melvins aka Untitled aka Lice-All) (1992)

Of the three originals in this six-song set, two (“Hung Bunny” at almost 11 minutes and “Roman Dog Bird” at seven-and-a-half) present a consummate example of the aforementioned “slowest + heaviest” formula the Melvins had been developed up to that point. Both are precision weirdo-doom metal stretched out in such a way to keep the listener’s attention even though it seems like an entire grindcore song could fit in between each mountainous guitar riff. A huge influence on how the band Sleep would soon expound upon the approach as well as on the countless bands that have saturated the last quarter-century with their slower, more pummeling tendencies.

Original label Boner Records re-released the album in 2015 as a 2LP set that includes the great and similarly-spirited Eggnog EP from 1991. Lysol also contains wonderful covers of Flipper’s “Sacrifice”, the Alice Cooper Band’s “The Ballad of Dwight Fry” and “Second Coming”, originally by Cooper himself. Note: One characteristic of this album that bolstered its influence was the lack of a track listing on any version of the release and mastering of all six songs as one uninterrupted composition.

“At The Stake” (from 1994’s Stoner Witch album)

 If you like what I’m going on about in the previous entry, check out this 8 minutes of menace delivered with, yet again, one of the band’s greatest riffs. The Stoner Witch album was the middle child of three major label efforts and in many ways the most straightforward collection, with a definite lean towards hard 70s boogie-stomp than metal, than anything the band had yet to do…except for this.song.

“Honey Bucket” (from 1993’s Houdini album)
The Melvins can do fast just as good as they can do slow, and they did it better than this later on, but there’s something about this little burner that just annihilates the entire backdrop of ill-conceived metal reinvention undertaken in a panic during the early-90s “grunge” explosion. To clarify…it is not hard to imagine this song as seeded by the band thinking “let’s show Metallica what they should have been doing since Master of Puppets," though I’d be floored if there was any kernel of reality in that admitted stretch.

Due to the early Pacific Northwest origins and unwitting associations with Nirvana that lead to this album (and the two that followed) appearing on Atlantic Records or a subsidiary thereof, the Melvins attracted a really stupid “godfathers of Grunge” tag that could not be less appropriate to any listener who has given their pre-1996 output more than a casual graze-over. This rather straightforward thrasher serves all of that early-90s alt-metal radio-friendly crap with a “better than you” notice as well.



Follow Andrew Earles on twitter: AEarlesWriter
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