I had the opportunity to listen to and review the new Melvins remix album "Chicken Switch" before its September 29th release date through Ipecac. Read my thoughts on the record...
I’ve enjoyed the Melvins music since the very first time I heard them. Over the years I have learned the lesson many of their fans know all too well, just because you enjoy one of their albums, does not mean you’ll necessarily like the next. As one of the godfathers of grunge music, the Melvins always traveled the experimental path with their heavy slabs of guitar and devastating drumming. Experimentation, by definition, is not flawless; otherwise it couldn’t be considered very experimental. The Melvins have made a career of pushing boundaries as well as releasing rather straight forward grunge/metal albums. While both have been widely embraced by fans, it’s not to say in their catalog of 27 releases they haven’t had their misses. There was Colossus of Destiny, a live album featuring two songs, the first of which being an hour of synthesizer and sample noise, only to contain about five minutes of what can actually be considered a “song” at the end. Then there was The Crybaby, the third installment of their series The Maggot, The Bootlicker, and The Crybaby, which featured several covers as well as a different guest performing with the band on each track. This brings us to their new release “Chicken Switch,” a remix album in the most unconventional sense. Rather than the usual artist/producer remixing a track in typical fashion, the Melvins opted to send each remixer an entire album from their illustrious career to be mixed into a single track. Sounds like an interesting concept, but the result ends with more noise than “songs,” and no real discernible clue of which album is being remixed in the first place.
The album explodes right out the gate with “Washmachine Sk8tronics” contributed by Eye Yamatsuka of The Boredoms. The fury and force of King Buzzo’s signature guitar riffery is still very much in full effect here, until it is washed out in a cycle of blurring noise effects, ragged crashing rhythms that assault the sound, and crackling synths that will lead you to believe your stereo/computer may just detonate. “Emperor Twaddle Remix” from Christoph Heemann, as well as Sunroof!’s contribution take an opposite approach, leaving just about nothing familiar to the Melvins sound, and in place offering a long extended and wide open atmospheric drift that remains quiet for the majority of the song other than a brief chaotic implosion. More forceful wailing noise is delivered from V/VM, Merzbow, David Scott Stone (with one of the most irritating tracks in recent memory), Kawabata Makoto, Farmersmanuel, Void Manes, RLW, and Speedranch.
John Duncan’s “AAHHH!,” follows more in the traditional sense of the band, but traditional is very relative. A rhythm not far from a locomotive raging down the tracks is built around a slow dirge of a guitar riff that creeks and crawls along in the shadows. Even this is too straight forward, as the track abruptly cuts off into a rumbling bass tone, manic whispering, and an overall feeling like you may be psychotic. Matmos’ “Linkshander,” is a more electronic offering that is more accustomed to remix albums. The song contains high pitched frequencies bouncing around like a video game on a bad trip, and five songs into the album, still no vocals. The album isn’t entirely without highlights however, Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth mixes the “EggNog Trilogy,” the first to feature Buzzo’s signature vocal bark, and most likely my favorite track on the record. Panacea’s “Queen (Electroclash Remix)” is a pretty promising electronic/industrial track that also features Buzzo’s vocals and should appeal to fans of Nine Inch Nails earlier work.
While I am not generally a fan of remix albums to begin with, the concept of this one intrigued me. Sadly, my opinion of remixes has not changed. If you are a fan of extreme noise experimentation and eardrum piercing sonic manipulation, this is the album for you. If you prefer the more traditional “song” structure, even for the Melvins, you may want to steer clear.