MELKBELLY – ” Pith “

Posted: April 4, 2020 in CLASSIC ALBUMS, MUSIC
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Melkbelly sculpts their signature balance between subtle melody and frantic noise on new album “Pith”, their second for Carpark Records/Wax Nine. The Chicago-based foursome has made spatial dynamics central to its arrangements, reaching for weirder highs and more startling atmospherics, negative space giving way to enveloping walls of chaos. This sense of form is reflected not only in the purposeful production, but in the ceramic cover art created by Chicago artist Deborah Handler.

As with many of the groups who’ve been traversing Chicago’s underground scene for the past decade, Melkbelly are hard to classify. They’ve slowly pivoted from bizarro lo-fi noise into, well, a slightly more polished version of bizarro lo-fi noise, writing songs with titles like “Twin Lookin Motherfucker” and “Kissing Under Some Bats.” Miranda Winters’ deceptively calm vocals float alongside a largely indistinguishable wall of grunge guitar (courtesy of Bart Winters) and bass (Liam Winters), and James Wetzel’s Lightning Bolt–like percussion.

Recording in two short sessions six months apart, the band worked with longtime collaborator Dave Vettraino, this time at Bloomington, Indiana’s Russian Recording. Alongside an arsenal of rock gear and airy synth layers coaxed from a Moog Prodigy, Pith’s multidimensionality was refined by the studio’s collection of rare Russian tube mics, which were placed in every corner to capture Melkbelly’s unabashed loudness. Frontperson Miranda Winters’ charmingly bright vocals are newly effected, delayed to a menacing, mysterious thickness. Guitars, handled by Miranda and Bart Winters, interlock and separate with dizzying ease, riffs dissolving into floating trails and reappearing with metallic edges. Bassist Liam Winters’ low grooves bounce and kick along with drummer James Wetzel’s rhythmically unsettling performance, which stretches time yet never falters.

After two years touring internationally, the band felt comfortable enough to rearrange songs they knew well, their renewed closeness guiding them. Their literally familial relationship was crucial for support, as Pith was summoned from a place of mourning. “We lost an incredible friend suddenly and nostalgia always acts as a helpful tool for me in navigating difficult times,” Miranda says. “Revisiting emotionally challenging moments or significant social interactions helps shed light on confusing feelings for me. Lyrically, grief gave way to considering life.” She drew from diverse scenes—Grimm-like children’s stories too dark for kids; thorny, mossy forests—to create stories that feel distinctly Melkbellian: philosophically strange, strikingly textural, funny and sad and open-hearted.

Maturation, as well as their DIY reverence, can be heard on the tempo-shifting “Sickeningly Teeth.” It’s an homage to “feel[ing] like shit really loudly or obnoxiously. You know, in an unapologetic youthful way,” deadpans Miranda. James describes it as a “rhythmic exploration to make the song feel like it’s pulling itself apart.” Follow-up single “LCR” similarly shapes Pith’s dynamics and mood. Its shifting signatures held steady by James’ frantic beat, the track is a purgatorial homage to motion, ultimately propelled by its tangled guitars and layered vocal harmonies. “It’s about how having conversations with the dead can scoot you along in life, even when you’re really only hearing one side of the conversation or making up the other half,” says Miranda.


Since their 2017 debut Nothing Valley, the members of Melkbelly have an even better understanding of their sonic motivations. “We’re always going to sort through the past to make better sense of the present,” Miranda says, and in doing so Melkbelly continually finds ways to mutate its sound. On Pith, Melkbelly sought space, and succeeded in crafting it. What a pleasure to be let in.

1. “THC” 

Miranda: This is a song about losing a friend physically versus losing a friend emotionally—it’s a sad Venn diagram. Liam: Miranda calls the bass during the verse on this track “prom bass” after the original bass line was much more aggressive. Bart: A friend of ours says he likes to get stoned and listen to this track on repeat, which to me is the highest compliment you can give. James: If there were one Melkbelly song selected for the golden record sent out on the Voyager Spacecraft, it would be “THC.”

2. “Sickeningly Teeth”

James: Teeth is a tempo experiment—it pushes and pulls itself apart as the song progresses. It once was a ten-minute song that got chopped down significantly in the recording/mixing process. Bart: Usually we kinda tear apart the melodic parts of the songs Miranda brings to the band, but we decided to lean into it on the chorus for this one. I miss the ending that just continued to slow down for another three minutes.

3. “LCR”

Bart: Not something that we overtly discussed, but on most of these tracks we tried to pull back a little during sections of songs to allow for more variety in the song. On “LCR,” one of the guitar takes is pulled from the opening verse, leaving just Miranda’s sparse rhythm guitar. Felt weird at first but ended up working, in my opinion. Miranda: This is one of those songs that just fell out super fast which usually makes me nervous. We were happy with how basic it was and fought to keep it simple.

4. “Little Bug” 

Miranda: When we were in Berlin I was feeling real low and ended up at the apartment alone for a while. I was laying on my bed pitying myself when this moth showed up and wouldn’t leave me alone. The frustration inspired me to get up and start writing “Little Bug.”

5. “Humid Heart”

James: The oldest song on the record. Been playing this one for years and years and years.

6. “Kissing Under Some Bats”

Bart: This was originally not an eight-minute song, but during recording we started messing around with repeating the last note, stretching it past the point of being obnoxious or gimmicky (we hope) into a more meditative thing (Miranda still may not like this track). We are not reinventing the wheel, but, as with most Melkbelly songs, we don’t really have any goals for song genre or song length. It’s really just whatever we’ve been listening to lately or is rattling around in the back of our skulls.

7. “Season of the Goose”

Bart: We had a lot of challenges with this song. Initially it was James’ aggressive beat, then it was whether we should keep Bart’s synth-like guitar riff in the beginning. Developing this song was the complete opposite of something like “LCR.” We experimented with altering almost every aspect of the song at some point. I really like how it turned out, and its position on the album right after “Kissing Under some Bats.”  James: I’m a huge advocate of “the riff” at the top of this song. It almost didn’t make the cut, but thank god it did.

8. “Mr. Coda”

James: The best song on the record. Liam’s time to shine. It was fun to experiment with the second half of this track. There’s some Moog Prodigy bass line that’s being triggered/gated by the kick drum. And some Serge synth drone wobble in the background. When we figure out how to play this one live, it will be great.  Liam: Miranda had a very specific vision of the bass tone for this song. I tried a lot of different options until we agreed on something passable. I don’t think it was what she wanted, but I’m happy with how this song turned out.

9. “Stone Your Friends”

Miranda: This was a song that took a lot of playing before it felt comfortable. It’s about shopping at the mall.

10. “Take H20” 

James: Oldie but goodie. Blue Man Group inspiration throughout (think “Rods and Cones”). Bart: We played this song live for the first time at the Pitchfork Music Festival. It was one of the easiest to record because we had been playing it for so dang long, but also I think we were a little bored with the song by the time we recorded it so we ended up going back to the recording and changing/adding additional instrumentation. I think we tried to channel Oozing Wound during the little jam-out.

11. “Flatness”

Bart: Just a simple song that highlights Miranda’s voice and proves James can play the drums softly.

released April 3th, 2020

Miranda Winters – Guitar, Vocals, James Wetzel – Drums, Moog, STS, Bart Winters – Guitar, Liam Winters – Bass Guitar
All songs written by Melkbelly
Lyrics by Miranda Winters

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