Melvins: Hold It In

Even after three decades of relentless touring and over twenty album cycles, Melvins laugh in the face of that thing some call a “break”. Last year, Melvins celebrated their thirtieth anniversary as a band, and they released two records to mark the date: the covers album Everybody Loves Sausages  and Tres Cabrones, which revived the band’s original 1983 lineup, including original drummer Mike Dillard (who had never appeared on a proper Melvins LP up until that point). Shortly thereafter, the band covered Butthole Surfers’ “Graveyard” while giving away free ice cream to a crowd of kids in Chicago’s Humboldt Park as part of the A.V. Club’s “Undercover” series. Strangely enough, that puzzling performance provides more evidence of the band’s staying power than Everybody Loves Sausages and Tres Cabrones combined. To see beloved oddball frontman King Buzzo excitedly croak “Free ice cream!” and toss chilly freebies to eager children, as his bandmates (including Butthole Surfers bassist JD Pinkus) continue to pierce eardrums, is telling what it is about the Melvins that continues to amaze: their untainted devotion to chaos, rooted in a perverse Peter Pan complex.

Considering their filthy, flippant reputation and their shared affinities for black humor and gleeful racket, a Melvins/Butthole Surfers crossover comes as no real surprise. The collaboration didn’t stop with ice cream trucks, either: Pinkus supported Melvins on their recent tour, and Surfers guitarist Paul Leary joined his former bandmate shortly afterward for sessions with Osborne and drummer Dale Crover. The result is Hold It In, a musical merger between the two bands that amplifies the uncanniness of that Chicago one-off. It’s also one of the catchiest Melvins record to date, containing syrupy, sickeningly sweet melodies abound, built upon the bedrock of both bands’ usual scuzzy styles. 

 The quartet’s warped pop exhibits many forms on Hold It In, from swampy garage (“Eyes on You”) to stoner jams (“Onions Make the Milk Go Bad”), but the underlying idea is rather static: taking the grotesque and defanging it by way of caricature to fuse the catchy with the creepy. The choppy new-wave guitars of “Brass Cupcake” initially comes across as the Cars updated for the Torche set, but when the chorus kicks in and Buzzo screams, “Because they’ve got a lot of mouths to feed!/ And their noses and their mouths will bleed!”, dragging out his “e”s like a Saturday morning cartoon villain, it’s clear that the band haven’t lost their fascination with B-movie thrills. On similarly grizzled cuts like “Sesame Street Meat” and “The Bunk Up”, bloodlust and carnality take on a cartoonish guise, conveyed through stomping percussion and jagged fretwork but, in the case of the latter, disarmingly pleasant shoegazey non-sequiturs (the sonic equivalent, perhaps, of Osborne’s ice-cream-tossing interlude). At times, though, the disparity between sweet and sour toes the line between clever and cloying: “You Can Make Me Wait” debunks any oddball theories that a Melvins song featuring vocoder vocals in the place of down-tuned guitars could possibly be a good thing, drifting along lethargically until Leary pushes it along with a triumphant solo that comes across as too little, too late. 

The roles Leary and Pinkus play on Hold It In prove more supportive than directive. Most of the time, the two musicians play by Melvins’ down-tuned, down-strummed house rules, unashamedly stoic and determined to amplify their peers’ freak-outs. Considered alongside the swathe of chug-a-thons dominating the record, the Butthole Surfers’ touches—such as the repeated blues solos and lechery-drenched growls distinguishing “ Eyes on You” and “I Get Along (Hollow Moon)”—scan as grafts of the two’s Texan rock upon their Cascadian counterparts, rather than impositions. In this regard, Hold It In subverts the mercurial, self-contradictory schtick that undermines so many collaborative LPs.

By the time the record’s second half rolls around, however, the band’s carnivalesque perspective, proves myopic. After “Sesame Street Meat”, the album’s gnarled touches lose their menace, swept away by one-dimensional bluesy cuts and jam-session rambling that engulfs longer tracks like”The Bunk Up”and “House of Gasoline”. So it goes with Melvins—they’re the musical equivalent of that endearingly wacky uncle who believe in ghosts, conspiracy theories, and punk rock. They can be a bit one-note sometimes, but that doesn’t make them any less beloved; without their ribaldness, the world of heavy music just wouldn’t be as fun.

from Album Reviews – Pitchfork