Fans of Mike (Kunka, of nineties noise rock duo godheadSilo) and (The) Melvins (definite article non-compulsory) have been waiting a long time – 17 years exactly – for a recorded document of this intriguing nugget of nineties alt-rock history. Recording commenced on the project in 1999, but subsequently it was shelved until resurfacing in 2015, the reasons for which remain unclear.
At the risk of stating the obvious, ‘Three Men and a Baby’ sounds like a Melvins album with the bassist from godheadSilo. Kunka‘s playing fits seamlessly with Melvins‘ guitarist King Buzzo‘s damaging sludge riffs, adding a new textural dimension to the classic Melvins sound. Throughout the album, Kunka‘s bass is treated as a lead instrument, a whirlwind of noise that hovers around the edges of the listener’s consciousness, while Melvins’ bass player du jour Kevin Rutmanis anchors the low end. In particular, ‘Bummer Conversation’, with its irregular time signature, menacingly quiet verse and unsettling sound effects erupting into a fierce shout-along chorus, demonstrates the collaboration at its best.
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Where Kunka‘s contribution is most noticeable, however, is in the vocals, his punky hollering contrasting with King Buzzo‘s cartoonish metal growl. Almost every vocal on the album is treated with an array of effects: distortion, phasing, echo. ‘Pound the Giants’ sounds as though it is being sung by the Ghostly Trio from ‘Casper the Friendly Ghost’, while the vocals on ‘Art School Fight Song’ are buried so low in the mix as to sound as though the singer is literally buried. The extended arsenal of textures and timbres made available via the pairing of these two artists is put to full use with unhinged abandon.
There are handful of less conventionally heavy tracks where Mike and the Melvins indulge their experimental leanings. ‘A Dead Pile of Worthless Junk’ sounds like a Tom Waits outtake, invoking both dread and amusement with its toneless vocals and atmospheric percussion. ‘A Friend In Need is a Friend You Don’t Need’ is essentially a drum solo interspersed with bellicose yelling and canned cheering. And the aforementioned album closer, ‘Art School Fight Song’, is a deconstruction of black metal, with machine gun blast beats and unintelligible shrieking over a lethargic bassline. By the time of recording, Melvins had established their proficiency for tempering pummelling riffs with a wry sense of humour, but ‘Three Men and a Baby’ hints at the direction the band were to take over the next decade, exploring more unusual sonic territory.
‘Three Men and a Baby’ is the sound of four musicians with nothing to prove having a ball in the studio. For what seems like somewhat of a throwaway effort, this is a compellingly off-beat record, Kunka bringing the weird out of Buzzo and the gang.
‘Three Men and a Baby’ is out now via Sub Pop.
This Mike and the Melvins article was written by Joe Turner, a GIGsoup contributor