Buzz Osborne

This Machine Kills Artists

While most of their contemporaries have either crashed and burned or fizzled out, the Melvins remain one of the most prolific and hardworking bands in the rock history. Financial success and fame may elude them (they’ve always been too bizarre for meathead metal fans and lamestream culture), but Buzz Osborne and Dale Crover have managed to do what so few bands can: get better with age. No nostalgia trip here. They’re arguably crafting some of the most relevant and inspired music of their thirty-one year career. Being a Melvins’ fan is bountiful – nearly every year sees a new release. This summer we get This Machine Kills Artists, Buzzo’s first full length solo effort.

Beyond an apt appraisal of the music industry, the new album title riffs on a slogan Woody Guthrie scrawled across his acoustic, back in the 40s. Buzzo’s record, however, isn’t a collection of socialist protest songs (or if it is it’s the most offbeat collection of socialist protest songs), but it is an entirely acoustic set. It’s an exciting and unexpected turn for the Melvins’ front man, and, for the most part, This Machine…, well, kills.

Buzzo has always had tremendous vocal range. He will never be an octave gymnast, tumbling from falsetto to baritone, and slaughtering tunes with vibrato leaps, but the guy creates atmosphere. He croons. He hollers. He seduces and chides. He’s a possessed child and a creepy hag. And this is the record’s greatest strength – it gives ample room to showcase the different facets of his voice.

The most successful tracks of the bunch are slices of surrealist psychedelic folk metal. Opener ‘Dark Brown Teeth’ has a breezy Zeppelin-like riff; slightly melancholy vocals reverberate over the guitar before launching into a heavy breakdown. A perfect song for summer – dandelions and sunshine with the chance of thunderstorms. Buzzo unleashes the snake-tongued delivery on ‘Vulgar Joke,’ a song based around a muted heavy metal gallop and dissonant chords. It’s the unplugged step-sister of ‘Lovely Butterfly.’ ‘The Spoiled Brat’ comes off like an unearthed Jesus and Mary Chain demo. The haunting ballad ‘Drunken Baby’ would be single material in a climate where radio didn’t play dogshit.

Production on the album is impeccable. You hear every buzzing detuned string, fret noise, and plectrum stroke – random sounds that add texture and an unsettlingly aura to the proceedings. EQed guitar on ‘Everything’s Easy For You’ gives the song an electric feel, which complements all the witchy wailing. Another ballad, the heavily reverbed ‘How I Became Offensive,’ features squeaky bed harmonics, an eerie but tender melody, and a pensive guitar hook. ‘Instrument Of God,’ the longest number on the album and four songs in one, contains subtle knob tweaks and what sounds like Buzzo singing into a megaphone recorded in a shower.

The sixteen track album does falter in places. Mostly due to the heavier tunes. They beg for electricity and overdriven valves. Beyond that, their rhythms and eighth note turnarounds simply seem too similar to material from the Melvins’ output since A Senile Animal to be memorable. ‘The Ripping Driving’ riffage even rips off ‘Revolve.’ The best of this lot is ‘Laid Back Walking’ and ‘Rough Democracy.’  

As a whole, it feels Buzzo is capturing ideas more than presenting a completed work of stripped-down intimacy. These are blueprints for something greater. There’s a monolithic rock album here, at least somewhere. One imagines what the album might have been with more instrumentation, variation, and an editor. Average song clocks in around two and half minutes, and even then it loses steam by curtain call. Despite the warts, This Machine Kills Artists is a solid outing. And, perhaps because of the all acoustic setting, it may be the most consistently accessible thing Buzzo has ever done. Granted it’s probably not gonna win over droves of new fans, but it’s the closest long-time listeners will get to a bonfire sing-a-long with the King.

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