Melvins  - Freak Puke (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


Freak Puke (2012)


First, a Melvins primer: Traditionally, the Melvins have been a three-piece with Buzz Osborne on guitar, Dale Crover on drums and a seemingly revolving cast on bass. However, in 2006, the band recruited into its ranks bassist Jared Warren and drummer Coady Willis, both of Big Business (yes, that's TWO drummers.) However, in 2011, while Big Business was on tour, Osborne and Crover toured with frequent Melvins collaborator Trevor Dunn on acoustic bass as "Melvins Lite." During this time, and afterwards, Melvins Lite recorded a reported 50-55 tracks with Dunn. Currently, the Melvins exist in two formations, the Melvins and Melvins Lite. Osborne has expressed a desire for both the four-piece Melvins and three-piece, Dunn-inclusive Melvins to function simultaneously. Their newest release, Freak Puke, is the Dunn version of the band, as opposed to Bulls and the Bees from earlier this year, which was the four-piece Melvins.

Osborne has previously expressed that the band works out a lot of its songs while recording them, and it shows on Freak Puke. At times, the album feels almost like a jazz LP. Standard song structure is abandoned for twisting, shifting pieces. Songs often have multiple sections and end completely unlike they started. Additonally, improvisation plays a very large part in this piece. "Baby, Won't You Weird Me Out" begins as a familiar Melvins sludge-whisper, but then evolves into a jam session, where Crover's guitar and Dunn's bass play off each other, challenging each other to the next movement.

For obvious reasons, Dunn's bass plays a central part in the recordings. It seems that the band specifically wanted to explore the range of the instrument. On "Worm Farm Waltz" the strings drop into a cinematic, Jaws-like rumbling. "Holy Barbarians" has Dunn sliding along the strings in a psychedelic haze. "Inner Ear Rupture" uses beatnik-style cacophony to create a harsh but fascinating journey.

While the Melvins' last few releases seem to be very riff- and power-oriented, Freak Puke, which does have its share of classic rock headbanging chords, seems more interested in exploring atmosphere. The willingness to let the tone of the song drift into whatever the three push it to (much like a Oujia board) creates some of the spookiest, and trippiest, music of the band to date.

Quite interestingly, the band retains its core heaviness. While experimental albums often seem to float into the clouds, Freak Puke crawls along the coean floor, shaking and shifting with the weight of Melvins-four-piece. But, while the album seems to be one of experimentation of sound, at the end, the Melvins apply the test to Wings' "Let Me Roll It." The band chooses to adhere to the song's core structure, but supplement it with ghostly wails and terrifying ambiance. It cements Freak Puke as the band's trippiest album, but also shows how dark the band really gets.

Often, albums where bands supplement their music with a new element or technique are referred to experiments. While Freak Puke likely is an "experiment," the term doesn't quite do justice to the recordings. Rather, Freak Puke is an experiment that works so well, it's no longer an experiment, but an advancement.