Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy Nude year

I can't say I've had the most productive "holiday break" in the world. Trying to squeeze a lot of activity in before returning to work tomorrow. Feels like forever since I was at the office, but it's only been a week and change.

Anyhow, for some reason I'm still on this tip of reassessing '08's crop of new music to see what I might have missed or overstated or short-shrifted. Why any of this list business matters, I'm not sure, but bear with me.

I'll tell you something: I was pretty much a damn fool not to have recognized Nude with Boots, the 16th (at least that's how Wikipedia counts it) album by the mighty Melvins, on one list or another. I did five-star the damn thing in Time Out back in July, but it definitely deserved to be heralded at year's end.

It's not too hard to tell why I overlooked the thing, though. The thing is that the Melvins are very easy to take for granted. They're always there, and they're pretty much always good. But it's a little dishonest of me to speak as though I've been around to witness their entire career.

The truth of the matter is that I was only dimly aware of the band throughout the '90s, when a lot of others were getting hip to them via MTV and the tangential Kurt Cobain connection. I really started my investigation of them in like '04/'05 and that general vicinity. It took forever, but I finally filled in all the blanks and heard pretty much everything they've ever put out.

When I speak of taking the Melvins for granted, though, it's strange, because the truth is that I'm really speaking about a track record that began only a few years ago, back in '06. If you're not familiar with (A) Senile Animal, the 'Vins album issued in that year, you've really got to get on the ball. I don't think it's an overstatement to say that it is one of their best records. It's fucking phenomenal is what it is: lean and insanely catchy and highly sardonic and mean. As I mention in the Nude with Boots review, what was most amazing about it is that it lived up to what appeared to be the too-good-to-be-true creative gambit out of which it was birthed, namely the annexing of the entirety of Big Business into the band. (I'll spare you the confusing details, but will point you toward a piece I wrote on said annex in '06, with some commentary from Big Biz drummer Coady Willis.)

Anyway, the thing about Nude with Boots is that it's just about as good as its predecessor. But since I'd had a couple of years to sit with (A) Senile Animal and digest it and love it and file it away with all the other Great Albums on my shelf, it was sort of a foregone conclusion that the Melvins were at yet another creative peak in this current time cycle. But spinning NwB last night, I was struck by its ruling-ness, and the way in which it both retains what ruled about (A)SA and strikes out into other fruitful directions.

The great thing about (A)SA was its sheer listenability, its straightforwardness. Every Melvins fan knows that feeling of hearing a lean, awesome, straight-up-catchy song on one of their Atlantic records and then being blindsided by some left-field sonic excursion. Now don't get me wrong, I love a lot of the 'Vins left-field sonic excursions, but sometimes the aesthetic dissonance is just too extreme, e.g., on Stag, which is a very interesting record, but a very frustrating one, given that opening track "The Bit" is so fearsomely crushing that everything else on the disc--as brilliant as some of it is--can't help but seem anticlimactic.

(A)SA had none of this; it was, in Melvins terms, purely crowd-pleasing. Nude with Boots is crowd-pleasing, but not in the same way. It ranges a little farther afield. A few of the tracks sound like (A)SA outtakes, such as the fantastically badass "Dog Island." But there's also a strong boogie-rock vibe in effect on "The Kicking Machine," "Suicide in Progress" and a few other tracks, resulting in a very quirky and almost lighthearted vibe. Check out the band playing the former song (plain audio is here) on the hip and happening kids show Pancake Mountain:

There's so much else to love about NwB, though. Last night, what grabbed me most was "Dies Iraea," a version of the creepy theme used at the beginning of Kubrick's "The Shining" (I think it's during those aerial driving scenes). This is a crushing and gorgeously evocative rendering. I think I read a review that likened this performance to a Morricone vibe and I wholeheartedly agree, based on the limited amount of Morricone that I've heard. It's got a sort of grand, windswept desolation about it that puts me mind of Earth's awesome 2005 opus, Hex; Or Printing in the Infernal Method.

The title track, a track so thoroughly lovable even Pitchfork picked up on it, is a good-vibe machine if I've ever heard one, a cruise of fat, beaming melody that smells unmistakably like victory. It out-Torches Torche, for the avant-metal-inclined. Hear for yourself here.

The record gets more out/weird/experimental/what-have-you as it goes on, but never to a burdensome degree. It's very tight and economical in its strangeness and even the last two tracks, which are more Ideas than Songs, feel very substantial and worthwhile. Overall, NwB might represent the best-ever confluence of the 'Vins weird and straightforwardly rad-heavy personae. Something to ponder, if you're a complete Melvins dork like me.

Anyway, Nude with Boots soundtracked my New Year's Eve and it felt like the right note on which to begin '09 on. I urge all of you to pick this one up, even Melvins newbies. Not all of their records work well for the uninitiated, but along with (A)SA, this one would go over just fine. Moral of the story? Don't take the Melvins for granted. (I may have done the same to Ocrilim and Deerhoof this year; Ocrilim's new ANNWN disc was totally mindblowing, though I didn't get the chance to say so in print, and Deerhoof was astonishing live during CMJ.)

Hot tip #1: Has anyone heard The Bootlicker, the Melvins' terrifying odd-pop disc from '01? (I think it's the strongest of the three Ipecac records the band dropped simultaneously in that year.) No one *ever* talks about it, but it's a remarkably intricate and unsettling effort that never rises above a whisper but really gets under the skin.

Hot tip #2: There's a full, pro-shot Melvins concert from August of '07 up on YouTube. Start out with the (A)SA chestnut "A History of Bad Men," which boasts a bassline that's nearly identical to the one from the Houdini chestnut "Night Goat" but is in fact uniquely awesome thanks to Jared Warren's Buzz-esque but distinctly flavored tuneful bellow (you'll see all the other tracks in the right-hand column):


hamtaro s thompson said...

I really want to dig into the Melvin's discography, but where do you suggest I start? It's pretty intimidating...

Hank said...

The two tracks that got me hooked on the Melvins are "Hooch" and "Night Goat" from the Houdini album. The rest of that disc is a little spotty, but those songs should be heard by any fan of heavy music. Beyond that, I think the albums (A) Senile Animal, Bullhead and Lysol--heard in that order--would make for an excellent Melvins starter kit.

the one true dead angel said...

I've heard most of the Melvins discography, although I'm not yet hep to the ones with the new guys from Big Business. THE BOOTLICKER is my favorite of the trilogy discs, and maybe one of my favorite Melvins albums, period. That's genuinely brilliant stuff, and a bit of a curve ball compared to most of their catalog up to that point.