The Popdose Guide To… The Melvins
I didn’t pick up on the Melvins right away. In fact, I’m not sure when I started listening to them but when I did, there was no stopping me. I loved the quirky rhythms, the ever changing styles on their records and was always intrigued by singer Buzz Osborne aka King Buzzo with his absolutely monstrous hair, looking like he was going to cut you at any minute. Their music is rarely perfect but with such a prolific output, if you don’t like one, there’s another right around the corner.
There’s a lot of people that love the Melvins. There’s also a lot that hate them. Every grunge and sludge metal group owes a little something to their uncompromising style. They are often cited as an influence but ended up being too odd in the end to ever get their own breakthrough, though they do make for one of the stranger major label signings in recent memory.
After what feels like a million releases, it seemed time to give them their own Popdose guide. Over the next six pages, you’ll read about all of their studio albums, some EP’s and a few live albums and maybe, if you hate them, you’ll find something intriguing and pick up a record or two like I did and become an instant fan.
The whole guide is in this post, so be sure to click on the page numbers at the bottom to get to the next set of albums.
EP: Six Songs/Eight Songs/10 Songs/26 Songs
Label: C/Z Records (6/8/10), Ipecac (26)
The world was introduced to the Melvins (Buzz Osborne – Guitar, Vocals; Dale Crover – Drums; Matt Lukin – Bass) for the first time in 1986 thanks to their approriately named Six Songs 7″ release on Seattle label C/Z Records. If you want to hear them in their rawest state, this is the record to get into. The six tunes were the sound of a band that had no idea what to do in a studio or how to get the best sound. It also didn’t seem like they had much direction either. You certainly can hear the influence this record had on grunge but there’s also a bit of sludge and that DIY punk vibe present. Despite that, the six songs are pretty fantastic and a great taste of what was to come. My only complaint about the disc is that the pace just isn’t right on a few of the tracks, almost too slow for their own good.
The Melvins ended up recording two sessions because they thought the first one wasn’t good enough. And the second one was released first. In 1991, C/Z decided to re-release the disc, this time putting two extra songs, “#2 Pencil” and “Show Off Your Red Hands” on the re-titled Eight Songs vinyl release and two more, “Over From Underground” and “Crayfish” to the re-re-titled, 10 Songs CD version. Before the release was put out, the band decided they thought the first session had a better vibe to it and thus, the songs you hear on the 1991 version are different than the ’86 versions. The ’91 sets are even rawer, a bit distorted, with jolting bass work and may be even a slight bit more exciting in the end.
In 2003, now with Ipecac, the label decided to re-release this again. This time, it was titled 26 Songs despite only having 25 tracks on the disc. It included both sessions, a few outtakes, a compilation track called “Ever Since My Accident” and essentially milked every last ounce of this recording. This version is really unnecessary as both the 10 and six song versions are good enough for the casual fan.
Album: Gluey Porch Treatments
Gluey Porch Treatments is the first full length album the Melvins released and ends up having much of the same vibe Six Songs did. Although still not fantastic, the production is better this time around without losing any of the raw edge that was exciting from the EP. Whereas I complained about the pace of the tracks above, it seems to have come together better this time around. It’s a little less sludgy and definitely has a greater grunge vibe than the first release. And on this record, what you hear for the first time is the emphasis on both bass and drums in all the recordings. Throughout the Melvins career, the bass and drums have always been noticable. They aren’t simply in the background but an integral part of each of the tunes. Dale Crover’s work on this album is great, as this is really the beginning of him having to keep up with Buzz’s sometimes jolting riffs.
I love “Steve Instant Newman” which is a slight reworking of “Disinvite” from the EP. “Heater Moves and Eyes” also contains some fantastic riffs. “Eye Flys” is the oddball here, a six + minute feedback drenched drone track to lead off the record. Nothing else on the disc sounds like it so it doesn’t really fit, but certainly upon looking back, was a sign of some oddness to come down the road.
Most people probably haven’t heard this in the original form, released on vinyl on Alchemy records. The cassette version on Boner records also included the Six Songs EP and this wasn’t released on CD until it was tacked onto the end of the follow up record in 1989. So while I’d say this is a great record for beginners to start with, you might as well just pick up the next one instead…
“Steve Instant Newman”
In 1987, Osborne moved the group to San Francisco from Washington. Dale Crover came with but Matt Lukin stayed behind and formed Mudhoney with members of Green River (Green River’s “Leeech” was covered by the Melvins on Gluey Porch Treatments). Buzz now went by the handle King Buzzo and he recruited Shirley Temple’s daughter Lori Black (on disc, known as Lorax) to take over the bass duties. Their first release with Lorax manning the bass was Ozma which now goes down as one of their brightest moments.
The Melvins were always one of these groups that musicians loved and are cited as influences all over the place. But influencing others never turned them into major stars themselves. It’s very easy in 2012 to look back on their career and completely see why they never broke big but it was around this time that they really started generating some noise. Later on in their career when they became more experimental (“odd”) or more melodic (“commercial”) or more rockin’ (“loud”) many people started questioning if the group was really any good to begin with. Even today, the group is very polarizing. Some people can’t get them at all and some people love them. Upon talking to people that know the Melvins and enjoy at least part of their work, one thing is common. When you go back this far, most people can agree that of all their sounds this one was pretty fantastic.
The CD release on Boner records includes Gluey Porch Treatments, which makes it a must have for any fan of the Melvins, grunge or sludge. While Gluey felt more like the grunge side of the group, Ozma felt like like you were trudging through quicksand. Everything is slowed down, the drums are pefectly piercing and as good as Lukin was, Lorax’s bass rattled your bowels. Part of this is certainly due to better production but I think overall it’s simply because all of King Buzzo’s ideas finally completely worked and the band gelled brillantly.
“Oven” is a grimey head pounding minute-and-a-half featuring Buzzo singing over just Crover’s drums for part of the tune. The great, “At A Crawl” from Six Songs was reworked here into a much better version than the original and the 6 1/2 minute down-in-the-muck riffs of “Revulsion/We Reach” may be the finest sludge moment they ever put on disc. They also cover both “Love Thing” by Kiss and oddly enough, “Candy-O” by the Cars (and this wouldn’t be the last time they covered something you wouldn’t expect). This is the easiest of the early works to find, so you should listen to it if you have even any small curiousity about the band.
By 1991 there was a new name for minimal metal, called “Drone.” These days, if you know the genre you are familiar with a band like Sunn O))) which extend one note for 37 agonizing minutes. I’ve been in-and-out of the genre. Some moments I find fixating and others I wonder why anyone in the world couldn’t do the same thing.
Anyway, I say this because it was a new-ish term around this time and Bullhead is regularly considered a step in that direction. Back in ’91, maybe. As I listen to it again right now, I get the comparision but it really doesn’t have a whole lot to do with drone in my opinion. I have to think the only real reason that gets mentioned with this record is because the minute-and-a-half tracks are gone, replaced with three, four, five, eight minute tracks. But “Eye Flys” from Gluey Porch Treatments has more elements of drone in it than this.
I’d link this up more with stoner rock or doom metal than drone to be honest. Ozma was slow but for the most part, Bullhead took creeping riffs down to a whole new level. The group Boris, took their name from the first track on this album. They genre hop but are also misclassified as drone more often than not. Between that track and “Ligature” it almost feels like you’re suffocating from the heaviness. Both “Zodiac” and “If I Had An Exorcism” crank it up a notch but it’s really the track, “It’s Shoved” that’s the most intriguing. By this point we all know that Nirvana and Kurt Cobain were big fans of the group and influenced by them, so when I listen to the bassline on this tune, it’s like Nirvana completely lifted it for “Milk It” on In Utero.
A favorite little nugget amongst fans of the group this was a nice little Christmas bonus in 1991. Four new tracks show up on this one leading off with the blistering “Wispy” and “Antitoxidote.” “Hog Leg” is three-and-a-half joyus minutes of cool riffs and squealing feedback (like a hog, see) and “Charmicarmicat” which tunes down for 13 minutes of sludge and drone that has become one of their best longer pieces of music.