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Album Review: the Melvins’ Pinkus Abortion Technician

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“We’ll be taking this two-prong bass attack on the road,” Buzz Osborne enthuses in the promotional blurb that accompanied advanced listens to his band’s newest oddity, Pinkus Abortion Technician.  “We’ve never had two bass players.”

Yeah, maybe that’s true for the stage, but wasn’t it just a couple years ago we got Basses Loaded, a record that boasted six different bassists?  In serial, sure, rather than in tandem, but still…?  On Pinkus Abortion Technician, we have eight songs featuring Redd Kross/Off! bassist Steven McDonald and Butthole Surfer Jeff Pinkus.  What, was the title Getting to Second Bass too obvious?  Did Buzz and Dale Crover feel like that pun was too played out?  Were they angling for a more original banner to hang over these 37 minutes of weirdo sludge-punk?

Nope.  The title they chose is even less imaginative.  You get it, right?  Jeff Pinkus joined Butthole Surfers over thirty years ago and recorded Locust Abortion Technician, and now he’s playing with the Melvins!  But instead of the word “locust,” the Melvins replaced it with the bassist’s last name!  See what they did?  That, friends, is comedy.

Or something.

All this attention to marketing over music should be chafing right about now – I’m as irritated by it as anyone – but the whole package only forces the issue.  Along with a Beatles cover (“I Want to Hold Your Hand,” which we’ll get back to), PAT includes two Butthole Surfer covers that bookend the album.  Both of those songs – “Graveyard” and “Moving to Florida,” the latter of which has been inexplicably mashed up with a lyrical perversion of the James Gang’s “Stop” – reach all the squealy skronky grandeur you would expect of these musicians and their ideas bumping uglies.  Of course, with all the Butthole wave-riding going on, it would make more sense if the whole record was a tribute project, but having pinky-banged that sphincter for a bassist, an album title and a quarter of the album’s runtime, Buzz and Dale wander off to thumb their own brown eyes for the remaining half-hour.

Which isn’t to say that the balance of the album somehow strays off the point or is unworthy of attention.  “Break Bread” is a catchy romp that cuts through some of the mid-album doldrums.  The effects-warped string work on “Prenup Butter” reveals a band truly at play, refreshingly unbeholden to trends in sound or songwriting.  The acoustic spine that supports “Flamboyant Duck” works well as a foil for the electric chords and breathy vocal melodies.  “I Want to Hold Your Hand” gets deftly resculpted into a trembling garage pop dirge that really should be heard to be believed.  Most compelling, though, is the nearly-eight-minute crawl called “Don’t Forget to Breathe,” which draws all of the band’s strengths together into a single cohesive shuffle.  The lumbering pace, the alternately gritty and ethereal vocals, the ill-advised but well suited instrumental choices and the dissonant guitar clamoring all add up to the most essential musical excursion on the record.

I just have a hard time finding a context for this thing.  With such a storied history, one which the band could easily lean on for tour after tour ad infinitum, putting the gas on a recording/release schedule seems unnecessary unless they feel they’re adding value.  Is that what PAT does?  If so, I’m not hearing it.  I’m happy to head-nod along and throw a few weak thumbs-up at these songs, but be real:  At some point in the near future, when some other record has finished playing and your apartment has gotten too quiet, you will look up and decide to reach for the next album you want to hear.  You will flip through your mental index of cover art and personal connections you’ve made with various songs, and you will make an intentional choice, whatever will be the perfect soundtrack for the minutes ahead.  Will you really choose Pinkus Abortion Technician?

The Melvins’ Pinkus Abortion Technician comes out this Friday, April 20, on Ipecac. You can listen to the track “Embrace the Rub” here and pre-order it here.

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