The Melvins: Chicken Switch

Melvins_ChickenSwitch
By Bill Adams
Historically, the nature of the remix album has always been bound by a surprisingly rigid set of guidelines in spite of boasting a relatively free-form design. Usually, the tracks that comprise a remix set break down very simply: see band’s original song, see producer and his big bag of tricks, see producer apply contents of said bag to the song in question while carefully striking a balance that enhances or alters the base track and makes it sound obviously different, but is still recognizable as being cut from the same celebrated cloth. As simple and kind of silly as it sounds, the results can occasionally be kind of cool (see Jane’s Addiction’s 7” remix of “Been Caught Stealing” that actually wins more radio play than the original recording now) or they can be really horrid because, invariably, some fan will point out that the best parts of the song were ripped out or the producer added too much. This is usually true – lots of remixes do suck – but my assumption has always been that the reason for it is because the results of a remix session offer little more than fluffy and impressionistic third-person replicas of someone else’s music; the producer mixing was not privy to the motivations of the band while they were originally recording, so how could they hope to do that work justice?

While it might sound contrary, The Melvins’ remix album, Chicken Switch, is different. For this album, thirteen musicians weren’t just handed a single song and asked to artfully adorn it with electronics, they were handed as much source material from The Melvins’ songbook as they wanted and asked to get as creative as they wanted in creating something new from their source material selections; essentially being asked to create a series of sound collages from any and as much Melvins material as they liked.

The easiest (and most ironic) way to characterize the results on Chicken Switch is that they’re, well, mixed. With carte blanche as far as instruction and selections were concerned, everyone involved went their own way which means there is little (if any) connective tissue between the songs and, beyond that, most of them are senselessly aggressive, caustic and formless. There are no tracks on Chicken Switch that are recognizable as vocals are jettisoned nearly wholesale in favor of added attention being paid to the more textural (read: abrasive feedback) elements of the songs. The results are hard to listen to and, really, even harder to define as the formless mass that is Christoph Heeman’s take on “Emperor Twaddle” reverts to a sort of primal musique concrete and the droning (literally) beehive of David Scott Stone’s “Prick Concrete/Revolution M” aborts before really going anywhere. In cases like that (and there are others too that are more caustic and electronic), the work comes off as a matter of concept taken too far as, with little (if any) similarity present between any of the source material and the final mixes, the tracks fall flat because there are no possible comparisons to make or frame of reference to find. Elsewhere, Lee Ranaldo attempts to sum up and mix up the spirit of The Melvins’ music with a three-movement “Eggnog Trilogy”that rekindles the fires of The Melvins in the late Eighties and early Nineties AND rips it apart to make it very “Sonic Youth” and modal, and Matmos attempts to apply some very earthy tones and sparse beats to “Linkshander” with fairly sublime results. Particularly with The Melvins as a source, one would think that creating a decent mix that both reflects the band and the producer wouldn’t be rocket science but, really, there isn’t a soul involved with Chicken Switch that doesn’t make it sound like hard work.

Ironically, the songs that do the best on Chicken Switch are the ones that run closest to run-of-the-mill remixes. In the case of “Queen,” for example, Panacea re-envisions The Melvins as an electro-clash outfit which works well in its contrast of electronic beats and Buzz Osborne’s hyper-masculine vocals and, further, the new age synths that Sunroof! Employs on “The Silky Apple Butter Of Youth” are comical in their totally inappropriate representation of the band; they are a nice reprieve from the clinking, clanking, clattering clamor created elsewhere by Kawabata Makoto, Eye Yamatsuka and Merzbow. Does that redeem the record? Not really, but in a static storm like this, listeners will searh desperately for any port.

(Ipecac)
Review courtesy of groundcontrolmag.com
Sean Palmerston

Sean is the founder/publisher of Hellbound.ca; he has also written about metal for Exclaim!, Metal Maniacs, Roadburn, Unrestrained! and Vice.