by Dylan Laug (@blackwithsapdad)
Trash Generator is an album that makes you reevaluate your preconceived notions of a genre, no matter whether that genre is punk, prog rock, or the warping combination of the two that Tera Melos submerges in here. Importantly, it also encourages you to reassess the entire catalog of the band, highlighting the ways in which Tera Melos has always been a beautiful experiment in the marriage of different musical styles since their inception.
In theory, progressive rock and punk rock seem to be as diametrically opposed to one another on the circle that is rock and roll as possible. While prog rock steeps itself in music theory and technicality, punk was birthed from the notion that one doesn’t have to be able to play their instruments well or understand chord progressions and time signatures in order to communicate and connect with listeners. To quote the venerable Kurt Cobain, “Punk rock should mean freedom, liking and accepting anything that you like. Playing whatever you want, as sloppy as you want, as long as it’s good and it has passion.” Trash Generator finds Tera Melos showing that this polarity between technical expertise and “playing whatever you want” somehow gives rise to magnetism.
That said, Trash Generator has me rethinking my assumptions regarding the prog genre being exclusively listened to by everyone’s mouth breathing, Hot Pocket-inhaling uncle. Tera Melos seem happy to float somewhere between instrumental theatrics, absurdism, and a gleeful disregard for convention that is just as indebted to King Crimson as it is Black Flag circa Loose Nut. This combination manifests itself on Trash Generator in the way the band is able to gracefully cram prog epics into 3-minute punk songs. This is most obvious during songs like “Warpless Run,” in which the entire band sprints through 5 or different 6 movements in two and half minutes. At times, these shifts in style come across as a stream of consciousness approach to songwriting that seems to hide deeper messages that repeated listens may uncover. At other times, they come across as wild sketches that pick up and drop off as quickly as they start a la The Eric Andre Show or anything by Tim and Eric. It’s frenetic and surprising, but grounded enough to make the record sound as sprawling and expansive as any classic prog record.
The precision with which the band finesses through these different sections of “Warpless Run,” from a crunchy metal intro to a screeching passage of guitar pedal noodling to the triumphant sounding outro, highlights how technically competent each member is at their instruments and how well they feed off each other’s energies. Despite how jarring these transitions should be, they mostly work, largely due to drummer John Clardy and bassist Nathan Latona’s amazing performances throughout the album. Consistently, Clardy’s drumming not only provides a framework for Nick Reinhart’s guitars to tool around in, but gives the guitar a run for its money for most interesting aspect of this record.
When the band does give the songs an extra minute or two to breathe and unfurl, the results are just as bizarre and maybe even more rewarding. Longer tracks like “Dyer Ln” still shift and turn in on themselves multiple times and allow the band to air out plenty of different tricks and ideas, but do so in a more deliberate manner than on some of the shorter songs on the album. The whirring, sputtering, and ringing (which I assume are almost all pedal effects) take on a life of their own on this track and call to mind some sort of climactic Street Fighter battle. Despite its length, “A Universal Gonk” comes across as one of the more straight-forward songs on the album that builds and intensifies around a synthesizer and saxophone interlude (possibly also synthesized?) in the middle of the track that ultimately bleeds out into more guitar shredding. The lack of simple song structure on these longer tracks doesn’t seem to get in the way of them still being catchy earworms, highlighting just how confident and capable Tera Melos have become in their unconventional approach to writing songs.
On their past two albums, X’ed Out and Patagonian Rats, Tera Melos slowed down the pace of their songs and embraced pop sensibilities that seemed to coincide with the timing of moving away from the jazzy instrumental nature of their earliest material. On tracks like “Tropic Lame,” the pedal experimentation and fret board gymnastics seemed secondary to simply writing catchy songs that heavily worshipped at the altar of 90s guitar rock. Trash Generator takes a huge step away from this approach but keeps the same base ingredients, in favor of measured-yet-chaotic experimentation. Tera Melos has always been a band that embraces weirdness, but weirdness comes across as a passion for these guys and, as we know, nothing is more punk than passion. The songs birthed from this love for eccentricity call to mind everyone from The Melvins, Jesus Lizard, to Thee Oh Sees more recent records. Buried among the odd metal riffs and squealing feedback on songs like “Your Friends” or “Don’t Say I Know” are the bright, shining morsels of melody that were the focus of the band’s last couple of records. Songs with such pairings stick out as album highlights and seem to demand repeated listens. Overall, Trash Generator is much denser and takes longer to digest than the previous two records, but it’s just as worthy of multiple undivided listens, each revealing different facets of the band really pushing their own bizarre thresholds.
The best part of Tera Melos’ ability to marry these two disparate rock relatives is the fact that it’s all inadvertent and seems to come as natural as changing time signatures. While Trash Generator largely shakes off the appreciation of pop melodies from X’ed Out, it’s able to re-contextualize the more experimental elements of the band’s discography and make the moments of melody all the more poignant amidst the wild technical showmanship. Trash Generator shows that the “punk rock grave” that Reinhart referred to X’ed Out’s “Tropic Lame” is still fresh enough to exhume and the Frankenstein-like corpse within is weirder and more terrifying than you could have imagined.