Music Review: Melvins, Tres Cabrones

Published on December 12th, 2013 in: Current Faves, Music, Music Reviews, Reviews |

By Less Lee Moore

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Unless you’re a hardcore Melvins fan, you probably didn’t realize that not only have they been around since the ’80s, they’re also one of the more insanely prolific bands of the last few decades, with dozens of albums (including live albums), EPs, and singles, not to mention their many appearances on various compilation and tribute albums, plus near-constant touring. They not only put to bed that tired old chestnut about bands from the ’80s being terrible, they proceed to stay up all night afterwards, getting shit done.

Tres Cabrones, which loosely translates to “Three Fuckers,” is their latest album, but a cohesive long-player it is not. It’s an assemblage of songs previously released on vinyl singles and EPs, a couple of new tracks, and covers of traditional folk songs (yes). If that sounds like a bit of a mess to you, you’d be right, but it’s still quite good. The album does have one unifying thread that also pushes it into “must hear” territory. All the songs include King Buzzo, Dale Crover, and original drummer Mike Dillard (with Crover on bass).

Punk News has a good analysis of how this musical dynamic differs from previous Melvins lineups, and since I’m not a hardcore Melvins fan or a musician, I will take their word for it. I can tell you that the variety of styles and sounds on Tres Cabrones might be a challenge for some, but it’s still a terrific indicator of what the band is capable of: Sounding like the Melvins while still confounding expectations and possibly irritating you at the same time.

One phrase that is consistently used to describe the Melvins sound is “stoner rock” and while I’d agree with that to some extent, they exercise an inventive playfulness that transcends that label. If anything, Melvins sound like what stoner rock was before bands started trying to SOUND like stoner rock.

While “Doctor Mule” reminds us that yes, we are listening to a Melvins album, things truly kick off with “City Dump” and a rhythm section that manages to chug along and be catchy at the same time. Just when you think it might be getting a bit repetitive, it goes haywire before dredging up the sludge again, and then it just . . . ends.

“American Cow” oozes like a Lovecraft creature, creating a sense of paranoia that is heightened by Buzz’s sinister wail and a creepy chorus. Not to worry, though. “Tie My Pecker To A Tree” is up next and if you’re old enough to remember Cheech & Chong you’ve probably heard this one before. Maybe they’re just being obnoxious but it’s still hilarious. (The same goes for the other oldies on the album, “In The Army Now” and “99 Bottles of Beer,” upon which the band puts their inimitable stamp.)

Although the word “epic” is so overused it might as well be retired, in the case of the nine-minute “Dogs and Cattle Prods,” it applies. It’s got a similar sense of unease as “American Cow” with reverbed vocals and a super weird drum break that fades into another drum break until the “stoner rock” part takes over, complete with a sweet guitar solo and more badass vocals from King Buzzo. I particularly like the acoustic guitar that bleeds in towards the end, accompanied by triangle. And still it goes on, making the most out of that melody.

The menacing “Psychodelic Haze” is a good midway point. It maintains the sonic qualities of the first half of the album but lays on the feedback so thick that the song literally chokes on it. Maybe it’s just because I’m such a massive fan of the JG Thirlwell/Melvins song “Mine Is No Disgrace,” but “I Told You I Was Crazy” is particularly, um, Thirlwellian, with its burbling organs and hissed vocals—like an updated soundtrack to Carnival of Souls—until it transforms into something more Melvins-like, all heavy bass and drums lurching after squealing guitars and shrieking vocals.

The slowed down metal of “Stump Farmer” is awesome, as are the chord changes in its chorus. “Walter’s Lips,” a cover of a song from late ’70s/early ’80s Seattle/San Francisco punks The Lewd, is about the most trusted man in America. (It also reminds me a lot of White Flag, which makes me miss Bill Bartell again.) Melvins dipped into the oeuvre of Pop-O-Pies on Everybody Loves Sausages and they do so again here, taking the chorus of that band’s “Fascists Eat Donuts” for “Stick ‘Em Up Bitch” and speeding things up with a more straight-up punk sound.

It’s hard to definitively categorize a band like Melvins. When you hear them you know it’s them, which is an achievement that a lot of modern, and more obviously popular bands, will probably never attain. For that alone, they deserve our eternal respect. That they happen to also be excellent is even better. Tres Cabrones is more proof of this.

Tres Cabrones was released on November 5 through Ipecac Recordings.

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