Yes, Melkbelly's 'PITH' Is Pithy and Expressive

Photo: Ariella Miller / Courtesy of Pitch Perfect PR

Melkbelly's PITH wondrously pivots between noise-rock abandon and the warmness of lo-fi pop.


Wax Nine Records

3 April 2020

Sorry, as much as you want them to be, Melkbelly aren't a 2020s reincarnation of the Breeders. There are parallels, yes, yes, but it's not that simple, not that clean-cut a thesis. For one, Melkbelly are rougher around the edges and more likely to lunge at you with the blade than carve out a careful refrain. (In short: no thank you, "Cannonball".)

Yes, dueling guitarists (and real-life marriage partners) Miranda and Bart Winters unfurl incredibly addictive and hook-laden little measures for distorted guitar that call to mind Pod and Last Splash. And Miranda Winters can sometimes sound like a dead-ringer for Kim Deal, though her sometimes-sensual, sometimes-wicked delivery, Melkbelly being a product of Chicago, is as blunt as Liz Phair and as breathy as Cindy Dall. The Russian tube mics recently employed by the group do her wondrous voice justice and add roundness to the delivery. There, so it seems, the similarities end. Take "THC", which opens the group's second full-length LP, PITH, out last month. The song opens with an enthralling little bit of grungy plodding but quickly yields to a fluttery if fleeting harmoniousness in Miranda Winters' honeyed soothsaying. It's a shot across the bough: "Don't get too comfortable / Know which way the ground is."

Those sometimes-off-kilter shifts are wonderfully initiated and can be central to PITH, which is best when it pivots, often with its breakneck logic, between noise-rock abandon and the warmness of lo-fi pop. A song like "THC", which eventually bleeds into full meltdown mode, places this odd brand of musical schizophrenia naked in front of the consumer, Melkbelly switching between tones and rites as quickly as they cycle time signatures. For the record, though – since we're chatting up time signatures here – Melkbelly steers clear of the didacticism of sad-sack math-rock re-treads. Instead, they toy with time as a means of disorientation, like you've had a few too many, and the music is coursing through your veins like battery acid.

On some tracks, even the lines between these shifts get exacerbated, rightly amplified. On the otherwise wickedly funny"Sickeningly Teeth", the group lurch between verses, sometimes slowing down and speeding up on cue and en masse (a la Shellac's "New Number Order") and sometimes ratcheting the maximum efficiency out of quirky, quiet/loud dynamics.

But PITH is more than a record that calls attention to the stitches that hold on its limbs. The excellent "Little Bug" and the light-footed "Season of the Goose" (kudos to drummer James Wetzel on this one) are the perfect marriages of grungy discord and pop melody. There's even a two-part vocal harmony in the former. "Flatness", though not the LP's best track, almost unapologetically aims for the ear-worm heart of Rivers Cuomo.

Melkbelly are true to their roots and the familiar legacy of the quartet's last LP, 2017's Nothing Valley, with more aggressive fare, too, to be fair. In this vein, you'll get "Stone Your Friends", where dirgy stomps call to mind fellow noise-rockers Elephant Rifle, and the punchy "Mr. Coda", which features some excellent bass/drums breakdowns. The song's jammy denouement, which at times sounds bottomless, could use an editor, though. "Kissing Under Some Bats", where Wetzel again steals the spotlight, is pure '90s noise rock, with all the juicy connotations intended.

PITH, for all the attention it pays in getting the dressings and staging right, is best when it's replacing one genre's organs with another's, concocting an interesting if beautifully flawed, kind of Frankenstein's Monster. Like to whistle a catchy tune? Like to roar over a wall of crunchy guitars? Like your music to speak to your head as much as your hips? Melkbelly's new LP will scratch all three itches. What better endorsement do you need?





Dancing in the Street: Our 25 Favorite Motown Singles

Detroit's Motown Records will forever be important as both a hit factory and an African American-owned label that achieved massive mainstream success and influence. We select our 25 favorite singles from the "Sound of Young America".


The Durutti Column's 'Vini Reilly' Is the Post-Punk's Band's Definitive Statement

Mancunian guitarist/texturalist Vini Reilly parlayed the momentum from his famous Morrissey collaboration into an essential, definitive statement for the Durutti Column.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

What Will Come? COVID-19 and the Politics of Economic Depression

The financial crash of 2008-2010 reemphasized that traumatic economic shifts drive political change, so what might we imagine — or fear — will emerge from the COVID-19 depression?


Datura4 Take Us Down the "West Coast Highway Cosmic" (premiere)

Australia's Datura4 deliver a highway anthem for a new generation with "West Coast Highway Cosmic". Take a trip without leaving the couch.


Teddy Thompson Sings About Love on 'Heartbreaker Please'

Teddy Thompson's Heartbreaker Please raises one's spirits by accepting the end as a new beginning. He's re-joining the world and out looking for love.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Little Protests Everywhere

Wherever you are, let's invite our neighbors not to look away from police violence against African Americans and others. Let's encourage them not to forget about George Floyd and so many before him.


Carey Mercer's New Band Soft Plastics Score Big with Debut '5 Dreams'

Two years after Frog Eyes dissolved, Carey Mercer is back with a new band, Soft Plastics. 5 Dreams and Mercer's surreal sense of incongruity should be welcomed with open arms and open ears.


Sondre Lerche Rewards 'Patience' with Clever and Sophisticated Indie Pop

Patience joins its predecessors, Please and Pleasure, to form a loose trilogy that stands as the finest work of Sondre Lerche's career.


Ruben Fleischer's 'Venom' Has No Bite

Ruben Fleischer's toothless antihero film, Venom is like a blockbuster from 15 years earlier: one-dimensional, loose plot, inconsistent tone, and packaged in the least-offensive, most mass appeal way possible. Sigh.


Cordelia Strube's 'Misconduct of the Heart' Palpitates with Dysfunction

Cordelia Strube's 11th novel, Misconduct of the Heart, depicts trauma survivors in a form that's compelling but difficult to digest.


Reaching For the Vibe: Sonic Boom Fears for the Planet on 'All Things Being Equal'

Sonic Boom is Peter Kember, a veteran of 1980s indie space rockers Spacemen 3, as well as Spectrum, E.A.R., and a whole bunch of other fascinating stuff. On his first solo album in 30 years, he urges us all to take our foot off the gas pedal.


Old British Films, Boring? Pshaw!

The passage of time tends to make old films more interesting, such as these seven films of the late '40s and '50s from British directors John Boulting, Carol Reed, David Lean, Anthony Kimmins, Charles Frend, Guy Hamilton, and Leslie Norman.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.