The music video for Melkbelly’s “Sickeningly Teeth” is aptly named, arriving filled-to-the-gums with nausea-inducing visuals of folks with all kinds of shit in their teeth. If you’re a hygiene freak, the anxiety is unending. Some maws are crammed with a rainforest’s worth of gnawed fronds; elsewhere, rows of white enamel are obscured by a tar sands-thick glaze of abject darkness. Just as disorienting is the track’s initial uneven pace, which ramps up from sludgey barre chords towards a micro-burst of speed, before grinding back down to a halt. Melkbelly drummer James Wetzel calls this a “rhythmic exploration to make the song feel like it’s pulling itself apart,” and he’s not wrong. But while unsettling, it’s surprisingly hooky, making for one of the most unique moments on the Chicago quartet’s explosive sophomore LP.
Three years removed from the release of debut LP Nothing Valley, PITH further pushes Melkbelly into the twitchier side of noise-pop, though opening number “THC” is a comparatively mellower hit. A relaxed rumble of drums and spacious, fuzz-saturated bends set the foundation here, with singer/guitarist Miranda Waters’ delay-caked vocals drawling Kim Deal-like above it all. Following a brief, buzz-heavy dual guitar lead from Miranda and Bart Winters, a more gradual accelerando than what was employed on the manic “Sickeningly Teeth” takes hold of the band, culminating in a cloudy, hypnagogic mosh.
PITH’s general pace, however, is quickened by Wetzel’s frenetic drum work. On “LCR”, his breakbeat-style paps conjure Aphex Twin, or perhaps the tightly-wound snare attack of Lightning Bolt’s Brian Chippendale, while the string section delivers a series of staccato stabs. “Stone Your Friends” is driven by the drummer’s full-speed gallop, though his playing is complemented nicely by a speaker-panning blur of tremolo guitar. “Mr. Coda” is a propulsive, menacing conga comprising peals of feedback and drum kit-conquering fills.
As on “Stone Your Friends” and “Take H20”, Melkbelly often subvert Miranda’s most harmonious vocal patterns by ending riffs on mean and gnarly guitar chord inversions. The group, however, gets unabashedly poppy on their “Humid Heart” and “Little Bug”. The latter is an ode to a sleep-disrupting creature flapping its wings in front of Miranda’s face one night, “making things difficult”. Kept up by the critter, the vocalist contemplates the meaning of lawn ornaments and loneliness before a guitar solo chimes in with some choice vibrato, and a touch of wah.
At seven-and-a-half minutes long, album centrepiece “Kissing Under the Bats” is epic in scope, but it lacks the concise punch of the rest of PITH. The song begins extra energized—working a surf-disco hybrid beneath Miranda’s rapid-fire snarls— but the arrangement quickly shoots off the rails into an extended one-chord pound. It’s hypnotic, to be sure, eventually spilling into a section of space-age phaser noise, but the five-minute psych jam doesn’t entirely stick the landing. “Flatness,” however, is a sublime and soothing coda to the LP, bringing the tempo down a bit after a near 40-minute workout.
PITH finds Melkbelly gleefully pushing against the confines of pop-tinged noise-rock. While some experimentations work better than others, this latest album is chock full of ideas, and certainly more appetizing than those sickening teeth.
review by Gregory Adams