The members of Melvins have been dishing out heavy punk metal anthems for over 25 years, ignorant of trends and commercial concerns. This uncompromising spirit has earned them an instantly recognizable sound and a dedicated fan base. Chicken Switch is their first remix album, showcasing a who’s who of the international experimental music scene, each tasked with re-interpreting an entire album. The source material is never given (although there are hints), but the majority of the songs are so heavily processed it’s besides the point.
Eye Yamatsuka of Boredoms opens the record with a propulsive, percussion-heavy track reminiscent of recent Boredoms material with distortion added. German underground legend Christoph Heeman follows with a perfectly executed study in tension and release, beginning with a deceptively blissful ambient section before transforming briefly into a discordant racket and resolving these two to spectacular effect. American experimental trailblazer John Duncan explores the sound of mounting tension on “AHHH…,” repeating one drum-and-guitar line before an arresting denouement.
Elsewhere, the bigger names vacillate between the Mevlins’ sound and their own artistic vision. Matmos’ contribution opens with a brief bass sample that builds slowly over various electronic flourishes and has a strong internal momentum and compositional arc. It's more Matmos than Melvins, but compelling nonetheless. Merzbow fails to make anything other than a harsh Merzbow track, but Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo triumphs brilliantly in re-organizing the classic Eggnong EP into a four-minute “trilogy” that distills the essence of the original.
The Sunroof! contribution is a brief and exhilarating wash of shimmering static that proves Matthew Bower was doing chillwave for a decade before anyone cared, but it's hard to recognize the Melvins in it. Perhaps a straight remix is ill-advised, though: The bizarre misfire of Panacea’s “Queen” answers the question of what a Melvins dance track would sound like, but it fails to justify whether such a question should be asked. On the other end of the aesthetic map, David Scott Stone, an occasional Melvins collaborator, utilizes slowed-down vocal samples on a three-minute exercise in restraint that provides a welcome respite from the harsh sound of many of the tracks.
Chicken Switch is a trying 70 minutes, but those with patience and a tolerance for dissonant sounds will find much to treasure here. The record serves as an incidental snapshot of underground operators past and present, filtered through the inimitable sound of Melvins.
How do the Melvins, a band that's never needed much more than a couple of guitars distortion pedal, drums and intensity for the better part of three decades, adjust to these electronic times? Quite simply, they outsource the labor to those who can do it better, including Lee Renaldo, Matmos and V/Vm with the aptly-titled Chicken Switch.
Since an electronica Melvins remix is already a ludicrous idea, Buzz Osborne and Dale Crover may as well have tried a new tactic. Each remix artist got to choose an album, take one track from the album, remix it, and rename it. It'll be interesting to see just how much (or how little) Chicken Switch resembles a Melvins album at the end of the day. In any case, it's an interesting use of a large back catalog that, if anything, will produce more attention to the Melvins' body of work.
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