Melkbelly’s Nothing Valley opens with the song “Off the Lot” and a burst of guitar and drums that feels as if it could go in a variety of directions: metal, punk, grunge or something in between. When singer and guitarist Miranda Winters’ husky vocals begin, one might think that Melkbelly is a 1990s post-punk retread. Yet after the chorus, in which Winters’ vocals become one with the instrumentation, that hypothesis is quickly proven incorrect. Repetitive guitar and drums hammer away until the song turns into something almost exasperating before it ends, and the listener is left befuddled and begging for more.
“Kid Kreative” is even more disquieting; Winters’ vocals follow the song’s stuttering rhythms, and the chorus becomes a shifting scan of the singular lyric “called him Kid Kreative” until the syllables become meaningless with repetition. Before the track has a proper exit, the haunting heavy jangle of “R.O.R.O.B.” sneaks in. Winters’ voice finds a melody between the drumbeats, adding extra syllables to give the tune the sheen of pop hooks before it staggers off into something more atonal. The ending, full of feedback that sounds like someone throwing their guitar against the wall, is almost disturbing and entirely unexpected.
“Unexpected” is also a good word to describe Melkbelly’s lyrics, which are beautifully constructed and maddeningly obtuse… in a good way. “Try, memorize your consonants constantly and confidently try / Relocate to open waters, saltless and super wide” (“Greedy Gull”) feels like poetry set to music even if one is unsure exactly what is being expressed. Winters’ lyrics are not beholden to simple interpretations or the standard cadences of speech, which makes them all the more stimulating to the ear.
Don’t let the subdued opening of “Petrified” lull you into a sense of complacency; it doesn’t take long for the track to become almost creepy in its heaviness, buttressed by an unhinged guitar solo that seems to take up more space as it goes on, bleeding into jagged distortion before fading out like radio static.
There’s a breathless delight to the stream of consciousness singing in “Middle Of,” one punctuated by dynamic chord progressions and James Wetzel’s unbelievably fast drumming. Before you know it, the track transforms into a paroxysm of head-banging insanity that does not let up until the last possible second.
It’s hard not to cackle with glee at the on-point lyrics of “Twin Lookin Motherfucker”; anyone who spends a lot of time at concerts will recognize the song’s subject in an instant:
“I can count at least one dozen,
Twin looking motherfuckers that are dressed up like you,
Showing up at festivals to spit, chew and smoke,
Talking about their mama like ‘that babe is the most,’
Type and time of ruddy, ready faces galore.”
The guttural guitar carving a spot between the lines of “RUNXRN” gives the song a kind of swagger that makes it almost traditionally catchy, even as the lyrics defy categorization: “Exert all your effort, you on X right now? / You on X right now? Saving trees for duds?”
Low-end frequencies and manic drumming make up the entirety of “R2PCM” (I’d love to know what all these acronyms mean), an instrumental which ends abruptly. “Cawthra” is almost gentle by comparison; a twanging rhythm section offsets Winters’ delicate, almost breathy vocals. The chorus is astonishing: Winters belts out the line “poems, the sincerest” with a passion that makes it sound like it’s the most amazing collection of letters ever created.
“Helloween” ends the album, with melodies in the vein of “Middle Of” and some genuinely funny gross-out humor that will appeal to anyone who has traveled with a touring band and endured road food: “If you vomit vomit outside this time… you make me wanna break my puke streak.” It’s also the longest song on the album at nearly six minutes, but thanks to its frequently changing tempo — including an almost contemplative middle section — it’s never boring. The ending, which builds towards an emotional crescendo, is not only infinitely satisfying, but an appropriate culmination to the album.
Melkbelly is hard to pin down; their songs flaunt a flagrant disregard for what many would consider indie rock or punk or post-punk. That’s a big part of their appeal. Grabbing on to the meaty melodies found throughout Nothing Valley becomes more enjoyable the more you listen to it. Well played, Melkbelly, well played.
Nothing Valley was released on October 13 via Wax Nine/Carpark Records.
Less Lee Moore (@popshifter) is the Editor in Chief of Popshifter, which she founded in 2007. She also writes for Rue Morgue, Everything Is Scary, Biff Bam Pop and Modern Horrors.