Melkbelly Sound Like a Swarm of Bees

Posted: by The Editor

Photo by: Daniel Topete

Although I spend most of my time listening to music, writing about music (semi) professionally, and making my own music, I still don’t understand music. Or rather, the way certain rhythms and tones come together to create an appealing chunk of noise continues to perplex me. Though, it’s music’s mystique and my inability to scientifically dissect everything I hear that fuels my desire to continue listening. For me, the artists that make the least amount of sense, or evoke feelings so strong that I have difficulty describing them, are my favorite artists. So within a critical context, my struggle to technically explain an artist’s sound leaves me stepping over theory jargon to reach for allegory and mental renderings based on personal experience, like how Melkbelly’s set in Pittsburgh last night sounded like a swarm of bees.

The Chicago quartet’s barbed noisiness (both genre-wise and volume-wise; earplugs weren’t enough) elicits an infinite supply of colorful adjectives, but the most accurate are insect-involved: whirring, buzzing, stinging, hive-like chaoticism, and at times frightening throngs of commotion. Drummer James Wetzel’s arm movements are legitimately blurry to watch, as he rounds his surprisingly modest kit with Muhammad Ali-tier speed and precision—though with less floating and more stinging. Bewilderingly, his fury is closely rivaled by the six-foot-somethin’ guitarist Bart Winters, who hunches over and floors his way through intricate licks during their extensive jam sections; pulverizing his strings, sweeping with seemingly unlimited stamina.

Melkbelly aren’t a very productive colony in the natural sense, as there isn’t a whole lot of honey to be found on their 2017 debut Nothing Valley. But the melodies that singer/songwriter Miranda Winters does muster amidst the racket are sticky-sweet, like the epic “woah-oh-oh-oh”’s of “Cawthra” and the Speedy Ortiz-style hook in “Kid Kreative.” However, unlike other bands within the “experimental” and “noise-rock” idioms, Melkbelly songs never become nebulous and incoherent, and their instrumental breakdowns are never masturbatory or overtly virtuosic.

Nothing Valley and their 2014 EP Pennsylvania are both frantic and enlivening listens, but at least during last night’s set, the band wasn’t gallivanting about the stage or attempting to be showy. Their songs are inherently remarkable, and since they replicate them almost exactly in the live setting—the slight changeups in tone, vocal timbre and pacing are welcomed adjustments, as their recorded music has somewhat of an improvisational quality that benefits from a swift reworking—Melkbelly sound prodigious without even trying.

Last night, they played to a criminally empty room that maxes out at around 200 on a good night, but this summer they’ll be opening day 1 of Pitchfork Fest in Chicago to a solid 20x yesterday’s audience. Many of their contemporaries would have trouble translating on a stage that large, but Melkbelly are the Bumble of their species. Motherfuckers are loud. They’re gonna rip it.

Eli Enis | @eli_enis

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