Sunday 5 July 2015

Melvins - ‘The Bulls & The Bees / Electroretard’ (Album Review)

‘Music such as this should be challenging to the point of it being unlistenable and unbearable. But Melvins manage to make it so appealing, so tantalising and addictive.’

Album Type: Compilation
Date Released: 2/6/2015
Label: Ipecac Recordings

‘The Bulls & The Bees / Electroretard’ CD//DD//LP track listing:
The Bulls & The Bees

1). The War On Wisdom
2). We Are Doomed
3). Friends Before Larry
4). A Really Long Wait
5). National Hamster


6). Shit Storm
7). Youth Of America
8). Gluey Porch Treatments
9). Revolve
10). Missing
11). Lovely Butterflies
12). Tipping The Lion
13). Interstellar Overdrive

King Buzzo
Dale Crover
Coady Willis
Jared Warren

King Buzzo
Dale Crover
Kevin Rutmanis
Mark Deutrom
Melvins; perennially messed up, somehow always managing a way to push the envelope from within the confines of their strait jackets. Truly defining this band is like trying to eat soup with a fork, they’re an amalgamation, a bastardisation of so many styles; many trippy and weird, many heavy, gritty and snarling yet always haunting you with melodies and hooks that get you worryingly aroused. Such innovation – or a complete and utter disregard for the expected and predictable at least – has been hugely influential since their formation with strands of their DNA found in a plethora of bands since. ‘The Bulls & The Bees / Electroretard’ then is a hybrid re-issue of two of their most experimental releases. Considering how bat shit crazy their ‘sane’ stuff is, when they aren’t fannying about with test tubes and Bunsen Burners, it’s pretty damn obvious that this is going to be a topsy turvy listen. 

Originally released for free to coincide with their May 2012 US tour with Unsane, ‘Bulls & The Bees ‘ half of this release (The War On Wisdom, We Are Doomed, Friends Before Larry, A Really Long Wait, National Hamster) is out and out classic Melvins. As cliché as that may sound, their trademark stamps are splattered all over these songs like a bad case of bukkake. From the bigfoot stomp of the drums that open ‘The War On Wisdom,’ to its staccato, gunfire riff and a painfully melodious chorus to ‘We Are Doomed’s’ slower, treacle thick guitar work a pained fuzz solo, the whole thing jitters and bounces across their padded cell brilliantly. ‘A Really Long Wait’ has a superlative cinematic quality to it, at first resembling the intro to Cream’s ‘White Room’ but slowly contorting into a whirl of sound effects and ominous noise which leads wonderfully into the grandiose, evil fanfare of  ‘National Hamster.’ 

Throughout this release, the band’s collective bi-polar disorder defines its musicality and identity.  In an instant, things can escalate and accelerate or take a sharp leftfield turn. One moment you could be listening to choral like vocal ‘aahs’ over a genteel backing, the next a fanged riff and sludgy bombshell punches you in the back of the head. Or the complete reverse, why a battering becomes a stroking, a spooning.

Backmasking is the ideology that drives ‘Electroretard’ meanwhile. Consequently, the reversal of the compositions giving them an eerie quality that raises the hairs on your arms and neck while sending your head spinning like you’ve dropped a handful of tramadol after a blunt. You see, that’s what’s so special about Melvins. They manage to tap into the control centre of your emotions and thoughts and ransack the place. Some of these sections really make you feel. Across a few short minutes there’s elation, depression, a headfuck and genuine fear. ‘Revolve’ and ‘Shit Storm’ send your head spinning but the prior is particularly invigorating all the while, a creeping rhythm underpinning a cacophony of melting synths.

‘Youth Of America’ is one of three covers on the release. A take on post-punk band Wipers’ 1981 track, they shovel in extra energy, sass, polish, dirge and evil genius…somehow. God knows how but, compared to the original this is smarter, benefitting from a better, cleaner production all the while being heavier, grittier and more upbeat, more punchy. Its lead guitar line sounds simply enormous and once again has them ransacking your head; its one of those melodies that cuts straight through you. It hurts in the most beautiful way.

While the bass and drum led ‘Missing,’ a cover of Minnesota noise rockers Cows is enjoyable, the spaciousness  of the instrumentation working well to break up the record and giving you room for a breather, their Floyd cover is on another plain of existence entirely. Birthed from 1967’s ‘The Piper at the Gates of Dawn,’ ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ has a decidedly 60s aura to it. It’s amass with frenetic freak outs and trippy, noise warped passages. In short, it’s the perfect template for Melvins to vomit all over, carrots n’ all. It sounds like what the original would were it caught in a homicidal crossfire, explosive, almost bullying musicianship dominating the foray yet never undermining the psychedelic, hippie trippyness of it all.   

Music such as this should be challenging to the point of it being unlistenable and unbearable. But Melvins manage to make it so appealing, so tantalising and addictive. Instead of a sour, unapproachableness, within their horrific, discordant and shrill soundscapes you become immersed, lost with no chance of retracing your steps. So you walk further, venture onwards. No choice but to keep going deeper into the wilderness. This release is the musical embodiment of Stockholm Syndrome. You should hate it really, it’s awful, devilish. But you fall for it, become infatuated with every nuance and nightmarish squeal. Within the eyes of the mad man, of the psycho and of the sleep-deprived, grief stricken scientist you find an odd sense of peace and solace.

Don’t send them the money, I’m happy right here.

Words by: Phil Weller
‘The Bulls & The Bees / Electroretard’ is out now via Itunes and Amazon with vinyl to follow later in the year
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