Chicago’s Melkbelly had one of the most visceral and unpredictably thrilling debuts of 2017 in Nothing Valley with its zig-zagging collection of post-punk rippers. Those songs were backed by a thrashing rhythm section thanks to kit-busting onslaughts from drummer James Wetzel and a constantly chugging bass from Liam Winters. But while the maelstrom of noise was always palpable, the full-length was anchored by the off-kilter pop songwriting of frontwoman and guitarist Miranda Winters. It was an intoxicating blend of disparate influences, which led to tours with the Breeders and Bully as well as local press deservedly dubbing the four-piece “the most exciting rock band in Chicago.”
Winters' solo debut Xobeci, What Grows Here? proves that the magnetism of Melkbelly’s frenetic indie rock isn’t lost with slower tempos and a bare bones setup. The lean 19-minute, 10-song effort, which is exclusively premiering with Noisey before its June 15 release on local mainstay Sooper Records, is a crash course in efficiency that often finds Winters with just her voice, a bass, and a guitar. "When I first started making music, I made folky stuff kind of like this album. I wanted to make something that was different than Melkbelly. I needed a stripped down outlet after the crazy year we had,” explains Winters from a Northside Chicago coffee shop.
While Winters’ had pre-Melkbelly outlets like reddelicious, a folk-rock project and Coffin Ships, her lo-fi duo with husband and Melkbelly guitarist Liam Winters, her new solo songs, which were recorded with the Funs’ Philip Lesicko at his Rose Raft studios as well as the Hecks’ Dave Vettraino, are catchier and more instantly accessible. Songs like lead single “The Futuristic District” feel like a lost alt-rock ‘90s radio hit with its power chords and anthemic Breeders-like chorus. "Having all these songs that didn’t fit as band songs got to be too much, so I wanted to put a collection that could serve as a jumping off point for me,” says Winters. She adds, “I want to keep writing songs and have something that’s more substantial going forward. There’s a reason we announced it just this month and it’s under 20 minutes.”
What Xobeci, What Grows Here? lacks in runtime is more than made up for in immediate and introspective songs. “Mickey’s Dead Stuff,” one of the first songs Winters wrote for the project, features some of the most raw songwriting of her career. Winters explains that it’s about a friendship that "just got obliterated by drug use and navigating that and getting older.” She sings, "Mickey you don’t have it any better than I do cause all your pets died when you started to caddy.” Other songs like the rocker “P.A.M.” deal with similarly dark territory when she sings of "passive aggressive mistakes” that “knock good friends down on their hands and their knees.” Winters tells me, "It was kind of tough coming back to the solo songwriter thing because of the rawness and sincerity of being just up there with an acoustic guitar. It was a lot easier when I was 19 years old.”
It’s not hard to imagine adding galloping drums and pummeling bass to these songs and coming out with a Melkbelly track. Winters agrees, "The way that these songs exist on this album is generally how the Melkeblly songs start. It felt like a normal extension of my writing process but it just stopped before the band got to it.” Even so, these skeletal songs never feel incomplete or unfinished. She says, “It’s weird because I feel like the answer to why I’m making this record should be that I’m frustrated with Melkbelly or find it lacking but it’s just not the case. It just felt right. What’s the point of making something if you can’t share it?”
Preorder Xobeci here.
Josh Terry had to ask what Xobeci meant before realizing it’s just Icebox backwards. He’s on Twitter