Melt Yourself Down’s intense debut impresses

File photo.
File photo.

Hailing from London, Melt Yourself Down is an ensemble dedicated to controlled chaos and music without borders.

Led by saxophonist Pete Wareham, lately of Acoustic Ladyland and Polar Bear, the band plays music so intense that its name rings more like a call to revolution than a clever reference to a no-wave record from the late 1980s.

It happens to be both, and that is all the better suited to a band that prefers to compound and add rather than reduce or simplify.

Their self-titled debut is an anarchistic, groovy assault — 35 minutes of the listener sitting in awe at the spectacle of this band forging recognizable tunes from explosive ingredients.

Wareham’s saxophone playing has plenty of company in this six-piece ensemble. Fellow sax player Shabaka Hutchings, whose other project, Sons of Kemet, has produced one of the year’s greatest albums, adds an element of unpredictability to the band. Tom Skinner plays drums well enough to keep up with and secure the rest of the band’s experimentation.

That is to say, he performs admirably under pressure. Satin Singh, another percussionist, and Kushal Gaya, whose punk-inspired vocals lend the music a more human face, round out the band. Leafcutter John produces the band’s work and adds his own electronic fireworks.

Though the band’s rhythms might be too intense and demanding to be deemed danceable, it is certainly plausible that some brave souls could attempt this feat.

Tracks like “Fix My Life,” “Tuna” and “Free Walk” exemplify the band’s approach to crafting a song. Because the band’s activity is anchored in strong bass and drum grooves, the songs stay fixed in a recognizable form despite the experimental instrumentation and production.

Fortunately, Leafcutter John’s work in the studio accentuates the positive, giving the drums real depth, the voices a haunting resonance and the saxophone assaults a strong energetic pulse. The textures of the songs are shifting and strange, but do not sacrifice clarity.

In this, Melt Yourself Down is truly a successful synthesis of jazzy experimentation with more traditional musical approaches.

Another song, “Kingdom of Kush,” puts Gaya’s vocals at the forefront, building from a saxophone riff and piling on drum parts and an infectious bass line.

The vocalist’s words snap and form just as much of the rhythm as the percussion. At one point, the drums drop out and the saxophones carry on the groove by themselves. In a structure often seen in dance music, the rest of the sounds come flooding back in, giving Gaya a platform for more abrasive vocalizations and bizarre shimmering effects.

This gives the band’s music a psychedelic edge despite it not falling into the stereotypes associated with that musical scene. Far-ranging and intense, it nonetheless can be every bit as mind-melting as the haziest Animal Collective song.

Additionally, while the album’s lyrics are mostly indecipherable, the band and its music embody a kind of urgency that touches on political aspects.

Formed by a diverse group of musicians in the heart of London, the former center of a global empire, it demonstrates the positive unintended consequences of mostly destructive colonization and imperialism.

The product of a post-colonial cultural mixing, Melt Yourself Down shows the beauty of collaboration among many sorts of people as well as sounding precisely as chaotic as such an encounter should.

I can unreservedly recommend Melt Yourself Down to anyone. While its sound is decidedly left-field, its intensity and raw force make it an intoxicating listen for those who approach it with a sense of discovery.

About the Author

Jonathan Hielkema

Jonathan Hielkema is a Chimes staff writer for Chimes for the 2013-2014 school year. He prefers to write about any and all of his main interests, which include jazz music, leftist politics, religion, film and gadgets. He is a history major and a Japanese minor and plans to pursue a graduate school degree after graduation. Anything to keep him writing.

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