by Rob Cleveland
Melkbelly stomachs a noise-pop-in-post-punk emulsion with Nothing Valley. The melody maker, Miranda Winters, brings smash hits to the table, and the family adds to taste. The product is heavy and wholesome, serving up nothing shy of ambrosia. It comes as no surprise that the quartet met at a cultish gathering of noise-rock gods, otherwise known as Lightning Bolt. Drummer James Wetzel certainly takes a page from Brian Chippendale, and perhaps Zach Hill (à la Marnie Stern, Hella, Death Grips). Hell, there’s even a touch of Sun Ra’s Lanquidity in the mix, indicating origins of the jazz avant-garde drummer’s loose-limbed fluidity.
The sound and fury of the group culminate months of experimenting with catchy versus frenetic, or the occasional haphazard riff, knee-deep in whimsy; their new set seems to be a microcosm of tension and release, with choppy and hyperactive melodies, nipping at raw emotions while using disjointed rhythms as a conduit—or Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation, if it stepped foot in a bullet train. The dissonance is compact and thoughtful with pretty packaging, never torturous, gratuitous in song-length, or derivative in style, but economical by choice.
“Off the Lot,” a true barnburner, initiates the freneticism we’re accustomed to, winding up for a more pop-centric and hook-heavy single, “Kid Creative.” Then you have “R.O.R.O.B.,” with its robust avant-pop Deerhoof flavorings, and an unexpected swan dive into psychedelic doom, midway through.
“R2PCM” segues into their championed track, “Cawthra,” the best it knows how—with an abrupt drop-off, acting as a precursor to foreshadow the madness of "Cawthra"’s “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” moment. This elicits chuckles, and with that—my blood pressure has risen and I’m left with bated breath. Something tells me these tracks were previously one and the same. “Helloween” clinches the batshit trick or treat spoof, and recovers with the LP’s lengthiest and hardest tune to close.
The pinnacle of Melkbelly’s impressive gamut of songs in their burgeoning career still hinges on “Elk Mountain,” last year’s cut off the Mount Kool Kid 7”, a perfect paradigm of the quartet’s strengths, all-in-one. The closest they come to summoning the same kind of beast that feeds off hooks and spontaneity arrives on “Middle Of” or “Twin Lookin Motherfucker.” Can’t decide. The succeeding track, “RUNXRN,” is another earworm baited by sticky refrains containing the command, “Exert all your effort,” and question, “Deal, or not?” The latter might be a rhetorical question. Winters’ vocal affect is reminiscent, and so is the nineties-indebted album art. Does it make me want to buy the record? Yep—it’s in the mail, compliments of Sadie Dupuis’ new label, Wax Nine Records.
There’s no doubt Melkbelly are a band that push the envelope. While the party of four beckons and borrows from their idols, they never beg. The Chippendale trademark (high-pitched snare and other unlikely drumhead resonances) looks good on Wetzel, and it’s no wonder the four are being touted as Chicago’s “most exciting rock band.” You don’t have to twist my arm.