By Joel Barela
In 2014, bassist Massimo Pupillo (of Zu), drummer Brian Chippendale (of Lightning Bolt) and avant-garde jazz saxophonist Mats Gustafsson convened for what was supposed to be a brief European tour. By the end of the dates however, the trio had evolved into a band. Melt, issued this year and released on Trost, is their first sonic document.
It starts with feedback. A rumble. Then, electronics, bass scratchings. Way in the distance, familiar Chippendale patterns. Fans of Lightning Bolt will immediately recognize his snare-heavy forms. They close in on the song. The volume of the rumble increases. The rhythm coalesces, and Gustafsson roars in with Pupillo. Fans of the Swede's reed work should note immediately that Gustafsson lays his horn aside for much of the album's three explosive pieces. For those who thought he could gouge his sound no further into "rock" than his work with The Thing, I give you Melt. This is not a jazz record, but it is a monolithic improvisation driven largely by Gustafsson's modulated electronics. In fact, it is the electronics from both Gustafsson and Chippendale that keep this entire piece - even in its deepest fury - buoyant. If Pulverize the Sound wasn't already taken, the group would have a fitting name. They may be even more destructive.
Seven-and-a-half minutes into opening jam, Faces of Fear. Transformed. Melted., the sound drops to a kick drum pulse and furious bass. Chippendale's vocals enter with the same psychedelic reverb Lightning Bolt fans know so well. Seconds past the nine minute mark, Gustafsson's tenor sax begins to scream over the chaos beneath; huge, lung-emptying blasts. The bass rumbles like a motorcycle engine. Electronics - reminiscent of Chippendale's work in his solo project Black Pus - emit counterpoint stabs at Gustafsson's beastly exhales; the drums, a frantic setting for the bout. At 15 minutes, the pair return the song to Pupillo's solo tremolo bass. Then, Chippendale's first clear vocals, a screamed: "When the rocker speaks ... the roller listens!" The line, repeated again and again and transformed into reverbed whoops over a persistent bass, presents the first stench of the mad humor that perverts the album's prevailing sonic heft. The drums return in aggressive, searching forms. Again, a rhythm and melody converge in near-rock patterns. This coalescence is pure Lightning Bolt, drums and bass, the sound built from nothing on a primal whim. At 25 minutes, we return to brutal Prurient, Merzbow-like electronic punishment and bass. Chippendale's voice returns with funhouse vowels. The faces, transformed, now melt. The third movement of the song is in full force. A militaristic kick begins. I can see Chippendale in his handmade mask, contact mic wailing, as he packs the end of this 32 1/2 minute jam on his back and carries it to close. It never rehardens, just lays its plastic, melted mess down on a bit of thin static.
The second song returns to feedback as catalyst, but at 46 minutes, Flesh. Transformed. Melted. clocks at near time-and-a-half the first jam's measure. Chippendale's vocals are clear when he says in humorous staccato drops: "So dark. The first. time. I ever. saw. Me-tallica. I felt very happy. I got. first. row. seats. arrived early ..." His twisted monologue continues. Teenagers come. Items fly. Chairs and things and people pile and "fill. the. space." His delivery here reminds of the first few Shit & Shine LPs. Six minutes in, Gustafsson's shrieks follow Chippendale's grinding kit into a form like an engine startup on a cold morning.
In a recent documentary short chronicling last year's duo album with Chippendale and Deerhoof drummer Greg Saunier (coincidentally, two of my favorite drummers and bands on the planet), Saunier described his surprise and delight in discovering Chippendale's sound and style, saying (I paraphrase) that he felt like he'd finally stumbled on a musician (and group) who wasn't appropriating a preexisting sound. Saunier alluded to the fact that while Chippendale has clear technical shortcomings, his physical limitations are almost nonexistent. As such, he is able to create music and, as Kid Millions described later in the film, "do things that no one else can do."
Chippendale's referenced superhuman stamina finds a foil on this record, and as the music on Flesh. Transformed. Melted. builds steam, Gustafsson scribbles a psychotic calligraphy atop. Fifteen minutes in, the Swede rides a pummeling groove from Chippendale and Pupillo to a full drop, leaving Pupillo's bass like a ship's propeller in an icy sea, and back to Chippendale's monologue, this time clearer than ever: "I just wanted to thank you ..." Gustafsson's horn sends bleats scratching and peeling paint from metal. Chippendale's response: crank the electronic noise and bark like a woodland monster. This is the exact halfway point of the song. The drummer, yet again, nearly drives the other players out, his noise-and-kit-and-deranged-vocals hydra just too much. The thirty-minute mark sees a shift to monastic chanting from Chippendale. The crucible is ready, and it's time to melt once more. After the squall, Pupillo's bass again binds to the static noise and to the drummer's vocal repetition: "I have no instrument ... I have no instrument ... I have no ..."
At only seven-and-a-half minutes, Melt's eponymous third and final track is by far it shortest but arguably its most furious. It begins with Chippendale's psychotic take on a beatbox. His metronomic kick finds Pupillo in seasick bass nods. When an eruption subsides, it leaves Chippendale to take us out with the sick sense of humor lodged in the chaos, repeating: "Who brought the motherfuckin' bagpipes to the party?!"
This isn't a sophisticated listen. It's almost drone-like, giant blocks of sound, titan steps, played at hyper-speed. Lightspeed drone? Whatever it is it, fittingly, returns to the fire to close.