Melvins - Hold It In (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


Hold It In (2014)


The Melvins are in the middle of their David Bowie phase, and frankly, it’s working. Of course, the “David Bowie Phase” may be characterized by an artist rapidly recording multiple releases in a single year while collaborating with a wide range of other artists to help stoke the creative fire. The David Bowie Phase might also contain the usage of a certain substance to help charge productivity, but in the Melvins case, it is unlikely as Melvins drummer Dale Crover once famously stated, “The best advice I can give to a band? Stay away from the weasel powder.”

The last album credited to “The Melvins” proper was 2010’s The Bride Screamed Murder. Since then, the group has collaborated with Trevor Dunn, their original drummer Mike Dillard, Jello Biafra, Scott Kelley, and a whole slate of other people. Each of those releases were clearly Melvins jams- heavy as hell riffage, charging tempos, and straight up weirdness- but they also bore the mark of their guest stars. Dunn’s acoustic bass was featured prominently on 2012’s Freak Puke giving the band an electric and acoustic texture at the same time. 2013’s Tres Cabrones shifted the band’s entire dynamic by moving Crover to bass, thus asking, what if the original Melvins ahd never broken up? (sorta, anyways.) Their one-off recording, with Jello, a cover of Roxy Music’s “In every dreamhouse a heartache,” produced, in my opinion, one of the best covers of all time while clearing bearing Biafra’s golden tenor.

That’s why Hold It In, the band’s umpteenth album, is so surprising. In reality, it’s a Melvins/Butthole Surfers release, featuring classic Melvs Buzz Osborne and Crover alongside B-Surfs Paul Leary and Jeff Pinkus. But, the band congeals here with such charisma that it feels like this release is either the product of a fully charged band that has been working together for decades, or, the first release from a brand new band harnessing their first flash of creative excitement.

Both the Melvins and Butthole Surfers have made their trade in making hard, weird music, and so the chemistry here is undeniable. Opener “Bride of Crankenstein” bares all the marks of what’s so great about modern Melvins. A thundering riff lumbers and twists while Osborne calls out in his ghostly, almost angry, wail. But then, ever the tricksters, the bands find yet another way to throw their fans a curveball. “You can make me wait” will catch even the most veteran Melvins fans off guard. Instead of the band’s God-of-thunder rumbling, they melt into what sounds like a long lost track from Neil Young’s Trans. A vodocoder-ed voice sings out in a combination of angelic haziness and cold robotics. No one saw this coming. Further, most Melvins lyrics are up for debate. Osbrone has stated that despite his oblique lyrics, he has a particular subject in mind when crafting his lyrics. Could “You can make me wait” be a love song? Is it the first Melvins love song?! This being their twentieth album, it really is amazing how the Melvins both continue to retain their core identity while venturing out into new territories.

Speaking of identity, it is surprising how this release doesn’t feel like a collaboration, but rather, a band bonded by years of experience. It’s difficult to pick out which parts are Melvins pieces and which parts are Surfers pieces. In fact, this release is one of the few Melvins albums that isn’t credited mostly to Osborne. Thus, each track becomes a sort of guessing game. For example, “Eyes on you” which is credited to Leary, is surprising for its directness. While Osbrone hides his meaning through unusual perspective, “Eys on you” is a rocking boogie-woogie number attacking the modern governmental (and self produced) surveillance. Frankly, it’s a lot of fun to hear the band take such a hardcore-inspired angle and go on a direct attack.

Really, though, the real treat of the album is the convergence of the agendas of these various musicians. All four members make their truck in balancing the rocking and the weird and here, the balance is spot-on. They rock, for sure, but when they get weird, they get really weird. “The Bunk Up” is a multi-part epic featuring a hard rock intro, a ghost-ship middle section, and a 70’s metal outro… sort of. The point is that the band plays with tension as much as formula, sometimes playing into expectations, sometimes blasting in the other direction. “Brass Cupcake” is a modern Melvins rocker, but just after it, “Barcelonian horsehsoe Pit” is a four minute avant-garde ambient sound clash.

That is to say, this is a band that cherishes the classic as much as the experimental. I don’t know how much planning went on in this album’s creation, but it sounds very impulsive. The spark of true creativity usually comes in an instant and needs to be harnessed immediately or lost. This album finds the band catching every spark they can, feeding the sparks into a flames, and then fanning those flames as high as they possibly can. The fact that the group doesn’t stop to check themselves to see if what they are doing is proper for the “Melvins” makes the album that much more exciting, and by the band’s nature, that much more “Melvins.” Though, it’s doubtful if they could do it any other way.