Melkbelly are a band that 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.
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.