Especially since the band now has a room of one’s own — their own studio, that is — meaning they’ve been busy churning out lots of new stuff recently; two albums last year (Three Men and a Baby and Basses Loaded), and side projects like Crystal Fairy. Now they get to grips with the primal subjects of life on A Walk with Love & Death.
Three Men and a Baby was recorded back by in 1999 with godheadSilo vocalist/bassist Mike Kunka, and Basses Loaded was a “concept” album of sorts, with the Melvins bringing in a slew of guest bassists. But A Walk with Love & Death is pure Melvins, as well as the first time newly acquired Melvins bassist Steven McDonald has played on an entire album with the group. It’s actually a double album, with the “Love” disc consisting of the soundtrack to Jesse Nieminen’s short film A Walk with Love & Death (the film’s not out yet, but a trailer is available), and a “Death” disc with nine additional songs.
“Death” is the more straightforward release: nine songs, and straight, no chaser. McDonald’s bass is well to the fore on the opening number, “Black Heath,” which powers on for over six minutes, featuring a rather strangulated vocal from singer/guitarist Buzz Osborne. “Euthanasia” is full-on Melvins; the slow, steady grind, what they used to call “grunge” — just close your eyes and it’s 1988 again. There’s a nice variety of musical offerings; “What’s Wrong with You,” about a twisted relationship (sample lyric: “What’s wrong with me/is what’s wrong with you”) features That Dog’s Anna Waronker on guest vocals and sounds like a gnarlier Cheap Trick. “Sober-delic” has the meandering feel of Pink Floyd’s extended numbers (that’s meant as a compliment). There’s plenty of solid, heavy riffing, and it’s a bit more uptempo than the band’s earlier, classic sludge rock. Melvins fans will be well satisfied.
“Love,” on the other hand, is the kind of record that some would call “challenging,” and it’s easy to see why it wasn’t a standalone release. This is the band getting all experimental on you, embellishing the rock guitar-bass-drums power trio lineup with theremin, modular synth, and what’s called “assorted noise.” For the most part there aren’t proper songs (aside from the loopy “Give It To Me” — check out that swirly organ in the mix!). The tracks (whose names reflect the Melvins’ penchant for puckish titles, e.g. “Queen Powder Puff,” “Chicken Butt”) are more accurately described as sound collages, with bits of spoken word, electronic bleeps, washes of noise, and clips of some bright-eyed, bushy-tailed youngsters saying things like “Dig that crazy beat!” Decidedly warped, even as background music, and it likely works better with the film. But it’s still nice to have.