Melkbelly are darlings of Chicago's punk and DIY communities because the four-piece operates best in total extremes. The band's songs morph violently from delicate to deafening and infectious to disorienting thanks to the dynamic vocal gymnastics from frontwoman Miranda Winters. Her eerie coos and gnarly screams coupled with the squalling guitars and pummeling rhythm section from her bandmates have made for one of the city's most viscerally compelling live shows. They're such a gut-punch in concert that their sweaty bar-tested show translated perfectly at this year's SXSW, earning them deserved accolades from national press as rapturous as "The Most Exciting Rock Band At SXSW."
"When I saw that headline, it almost felt like I was reading TheHardTimes.net," jokes drummer James Wetzel as he nurses a beer at a North Side Chicago diner. But while the band is still processing their rise from the best act at the house show to hyped festival favorites, everything from their pummeling 2014 debut Pennsylvania and a pair of excellent 7-inches proves the ascent is well-earned. Melkbelly's upcoming sophomore album Nothing Valley (out October 13 via Speedy Ortiz leader Sadie Dupuis' new Capark imprint Wax Nine Records) raises the stakes even more. Recorded with Chicago DIY mainstay and engineer Dave Vettraino, it best captures the bursting-at-the-seams energy of their live set. "We've played such a wide array of shows and experienced so much together that with these songs we're ready for a lot more now," says Miranda Winters. Case in point: their unrelentingly nervy new single "Middle Of," which Noisey is premiering above.
In an album full of menacing rockers, "Middle Of" sticks out for how efficiently it sets its uneasy mood. Winters explains that she wrote the song while the band toured the western part of the country last year: "it's a lot about capturing the anxiety of feeling alienated in a new place with like the anxiety of being a human in a new situation." Over three minutes, sludgy guitars and Wetzel's manically-paced spidering rhythms behind the drum kit set the tone for Winters to yelp ominously of the monotony of road life: "Bumping across the whole hilled nation/Hemming and hawing, piss and then sleep." Of the many odd occurrences on that tour, one that stuck out was a stop at a motel in Tucumcari, New Mexico. "The room was full of toads infesting everything in the bathrooms, bathtubs. We were stepping on toads because they were blending into the carpet, says Winters, explaining the line "Further than the eye can see a toad, some soap, and mega eats." Like stumbling into a room with a biblical plague-level amount of toads, "Middle Of" is a headfuck.
Matching the anxiety-inducing vibe of the single is its music video. Thought up by Winters and directed by Matt Engers and A R M, she explains, "I had originally intended it to be a tribute to [Paul Simon's] 'You Can Call Me Al' video with Chevy Chase singing the lyrics but it kind of got out of hand." Starring Winters and her bandmate and brother-in-law Liam Winters, the first half of the clip is basically what would happen if the charming 1986 music video were shot by David Lynch at his most abrasive. Watch it above and stay for the lo-fi, stomach-churning camera-work.
Josh Terry has never stepped on a toad. He's on Twitter.