From Pilsen, Chicago, Melkbelly are the kind of band that are sometimes overlooked but, given a chance, will never disappoint. They’re the kind of band you discover via a single track on a mixtape and end up buying their entire catalogue. The band that, when played on the record store PA, make the regular crate-diggers lift their heads and reach for Shazam. A band that works with a local craft brewery to create a limited edition dry-hopped kölsch, brewed with pomelo pith for the release of their second album.
Where 2017 debut album Nothing Valley documented Melkbelly’s well-loved live repertoire of surreal lyrics, dangerously over-driven guitar amps and chest-bursting beats, PITH sees them stepping out of their own shadow and moving purposefully forward. It kicks off with ‘THC‘, one of the relatively laid-back tracks, dropping us right into the middle of a bad trip with no-one to talk us down. As ever, Miranda Winters’ vocals switch effortlessly between steely Deal sister and terrifying screams like she’s undergoing some form of DIY exorcism, but now there’s a new sense of harmonisation and nuance among the weirdness. PITH also sounds huge, like it was recorded in (and filled) an aircraft hangar. This, thanks to longtime collaborator Dave Vettraino (The Hecks), who recorded Melkbelly in two short sessions at Bloomington, Indiana’s Russian Recording studio using a collection of rare Russian tube mics to capture their towering live sound. Just dive straight into the resonant heart of the album, ‘Kissing Under Some Bats‘, and turn up the volume to feel exactly what that’s like.
Despite the capitalised title, PITH is not an acronym, “it’s just the word, the white fibrous bits of citrus fruit/veg mainly. The severing of an animal’s spine” says Miranda. It does stand for something, however. Lyrically, the songs here emerged from catharsis: “we lost an incredible friend suddenly and nostalgia always acts as a helpful tool for me in navigating difficult times… Lyrically, grief gave way to considering life.” That philosophy runs through the DNA of this album. A new terror lies around every corner, but that’s life and you just have to make sense of it. ‘Humid Heart‘, a song about the disorienting aftermath of mourning and ‘Sickeningly Teeth‘, a messy/funny, cough-syrup induced hallucination, could not be more different. Yet both leave your ears ringing and brain reeling with existential questions. Similarly, ‘Stone Your Friends‘, with its phased waves of rattlesnake tremolo, summons demons not from hell, but from the unfolding feeling that the people you trust will, in the end, betray you. Elsewhere, the simple, distorted lines of ‘Mr Coda‘ offers up a space for acrobatic drummer James Wetzel’s decadent fills on those satisfyingly taut drum skins.
Melkbelly’s emotional rawness comes with a generous side of hope. It’s subtle, but you hear it in the persistence of the ‘Little Bug‘ flapping in your face when you’re stuck in a downward spiral of thought, or the sense of escaping to a past life on the road on ‘LCR‘, or the bittersweet echoes of the intertwining, dual guitar solo on ‘Humid Heart‘. The familial connections and friendships within the band provide the solid backbone for this class of songwriting, with a genuine warmth that radiates all the way out to their fans. At any other time I would still recommend this record but now, soaking up the squally morass of PITH is an oddly comforting reminder that, not that long ago, we really could cram into sweaty, unsanitary spaces just to scream along to the music we love. We did and we will do it again.
‘Pith’ is released on 3rd April, on Car Park Records/Wax Nine.