Melkbelly – Nothing Valley (2017)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/96 kHz | Time – 34:39 minutes | 739 MB | Genre: Alternative, Indie
Studio Masters, Official Digital Download – Source: Qobuz | Front Cover | © Wax Nine
Melkbelly, formed by vets of Chicago’s experimental and DIY scene champions, organized noise and thoughtful freneticism on its debut full-length, “Nothing Valley”, fusing dreamy vocal lines and cantankerous guitar racket. Its songs clang and bang in stripped-down production that highlights the band’s sharp edges; multi-faceted slabs of sound serve harmonious, immediate songs. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that the band members’ tastes run obscure-The Hecks, Lightning Bolt, and jazz drummer Paal Nilssen-Love and, as they tell us, “bands and musicians that draw on a sense of adventure”. The quartet’s membership overlaps with several Chicago noise and experimental bands and art collectives.
An efficient one-day recording session resulted in Melkbelly’s first EP, 2014’s “Pennsylvania,” which opened the door to touring and opening slots for Speedy Ortiz, Magik Markers and Built to Spill, and led to The Chicago Reader calling Melkbelly “one of the most exciting new sounds out of Chicago.” Next, Melkbelly got back to writing and working, recording a pair of 7-inches with Dave Vettraino at Chicago’s Public House where it had made its first recordings ever for Public House’s Digital Singles Series and a Public House compilation tape. The sessions gave the band a chance to deepen its collaboration with Vettraino.
Miranda writes most of Melkbelly’s tunes on guitar and brings them to the band who puts them through the ringer, where they morph into a Melkbelly arrangement. Often, however, the band will take a guitar riff or two from an open jam recorded at practice and spin it into a song. “Nothing Valley” was recorded in early 2016 in Vettraino’s basement studio to 8-track analog tape. Fresh off a West Coast tour, the band let the hours on the road and missed art tourism opportunities at Spiral Jetty shape the songs as well as the recording process itself, writing half the album material in the studio. “Nothing Valley” breezes gust fresh and forcefully.
Melkbelly may be saddled with the kind of name that makes one wonder what names they decided not to pick, but their debut album shows that you can’t judge a band by name alone. The Chicago quartet kick up all kinds of gnarly racket on Nothing Valley, calling to mind Dischord bands like Fugazi with their stuttering rhythms; the Breeders, thanks to guitarist Miranda Winters’ melt-in-your-mouth vocals; wiry ’90s bands with insistent guitar attacks like Hot Snakes, and romping neo-punks like White Lung. It’s 100-percent indie rock all the way without being hopelessly derivative. Tracks like “Kid Kreative” and the electrified “Middle Of” leap out of the speakers to give the listener a smack across the chops; abrasive tracks like “R.O.R.O.B.” will have those with weaker constitutions turning down the sound when the guitars start throwing off sparks as they grind against each other, and the occasional indie rock ballad like “Petrified” or “RUNXRN” bring things down just a bit, though the six-string attack never fails to draw blood. They also pull of some classic quiet-loud dynamic shifts on “Cawthra” and end the album with an almost six-minute track (“Helloween”) that adds some psych-y darkness and features some truly ugly guitar noise and epic soloing. The album is a guitar lover’s delight as both Miranda and Bart Winters wring every last molten drop out of their instruments over the course of 11 songs. Not to be outdone, bassist Liam Winters and drummer James Wetzel work like demons to keep up, and Miranda Winters’ vocals walk the line between Kim Gordon cool and Kim Deal snark like a pro. Add it up and it’s an impressive display of indie rock knowledge and ability, enough to make anyone thinking they should give the band a pass (despite their unfortunate moniker) some deep second thoughts.
01 – Off the Lot
02 – Kid Kreative
03 – R.O.R.O.B
04 – Greedy Gull
05 – Petrified
06 – Middle Of
07 – Twin Looking Motherfucker
08 – RUNXRN
09 – Return to Pan Candy Mountain
10 – Cawthra
11 – Helloween