Melt Yourself Down
Melt Yourself Down
, June 14th, 2013 09:08
It's practically impossible to describe what Melt Yourself Down sound like without coming across like a caricature of Bobby Gillespie. Let's give it a try: punk jazz funk afrobeat blues hip-hop no-wave free-jazz dance psychedelic rock. See what I mean?
Named after an obscure, Japan-only album released by no-wave hero James Chance under the name James White & The Blacks in 1988, Melt Yourself Down is the third awesome band in a row (at least) to showcase the talents of saxophonist Pete Wareham. You should already know Wareham from Polar Bear and Acoustic Ladyland, the two jazz (though the latter only nominally) groups he's played in with drummer Seb Rochford for the best part of the last decade.
While the Rochford-led Polar Bear played essentially pure, albeit inventive and genre-hopping jazz, Acoustic Ladyland, of which Wareham was definitely leader, were always a spikier, punkier affair, driven by electric bass funk riffs and Wareham's dissonant, turbulent saxophone, often adorned with snotty, punk-indebted vocals, and on 2006's Skinny Grin pushed in extraordinary experimental directions. The group's last - in both senses of the word - album, Living With A Tiger from 2009, was pretty much a straight-up rock record: taut, linear, and relentlessly energetic.
Onto 2013, and Melt Yourself Down are Wareham's post-Acoustic Ladyland group. Though they obviously share DNA with their forebears - Wareham's thunderously riffing playing style is instantly identifiable - it presents yet another evolution, and even more eclecticism. Details are slim on how and why the band came together, but as well as Wareham and latter-day Acoustic Ladyland bassist Ruth Goller, the group features tenor saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings (who has played with, among others, afro-jazz progressivists The Heliocentrics), drummer Tom Skinner (aka Hello Skinny, who has also played with Ethio-jazz legend Mulatu Astatke), vocalist Kushal Gaya (from the indescribable Zun Zun Egui), and percussionist Satin Singh, all produced and augmented by electronics whizz Leafcutter John from Polar Bear (amongst others). This is a band with a hell of a pedigree.
The music Melt Yourself Down make on this eight song, 36-minute debut album is insanely full of energy and ideas, a tumultuous barrage of snaky, infectious hooks and punishingly addictive grooves. 'Fix My Life' opens the album with chaotically synchronised horns, clattering drums and a thumping punk rock bassline, quickly overlaid with whooshing, hands-in-the-air electronics. The atmosphere is akin to a rave in a souk, especially when the crazed, grunting vocals come in.
If you think of jazz as the music of a rarefied elite and so-called 'world music' as worthily admirable, then you're in for a shock with this record. It is brutally catchy and propulsive, a revolutionary, riotous festival of noise and colour and rhythm, which fulsomely exorcises the long-dead notion that 'alternative' 'rock' music is in any way alternative or rocking. After the exhaustingly upbeat and noisy first four songs, each miraculously madder and poppier than the song before – 'Release!', 'Tuna' (ripped through with the most effervescent vocals you've ever heard), and 'We Are Enough' (the opening hook of which incongruously featured on an advert earlier this year for some foodstuff I forget the name of) - the album calms down. But only a little. 'Kingdom of Kush' is arguably slightly more redolent of more 'authentic' - whatever that means - afrobeat than no-wave and jazz, and 'Free Walk', though still catchy, is positively ruminative in its melody, keening saxophone lines and chanted vocals given space and time to breathe.
Melt Yourself Down is a vivacious, phantasmagorical melting pot, easily the most viscerally exciting album I've heard so far this year. That it manages to meld its mayhem to indelibly memorable tunes is both brilliant and outrageous. You probably owe it to yourself to buy this record.