An underrated little indie rock gem from last year was Nothing Valley from Chicago’s Melkbelly. Like the best of ’80s and ’90s, like The Pixies and Hole, as well as like Throwing Muses and their myriad offshoots, Melkbelly is scrappy yet precocious. They’re rough and rowdy, balancing melody, artfully molded yet dangerous guitar noise and some simply great rock songs.
But drummer James Wetzel tells me via email he saves his recklessness for the stage. “If I were as noisy and unhinged when hanging out as I am when playing music,” he says, “I probably wouldn’t have any friends.”
Wetzel explains a lot of his band’s on-the-verge energy comes from Melkbelly vocalist Miranda Winters. “Miranda is loud and noisy and likes to get rowdy,” he says.
On album tracks like “Cawthra,” Winters lets her voice become a force of nature over loud-quiet-loud power chords and a rhythm section finding jagged pockets in dark places. Just as the song reaches its climax, it cuts off abruptly and you’ll find yourself catching your breath.
Elsewhere on the record, Winters repeats “I’m a Kid Kreative,” over the music’s slow yet frenetic crescendo.
“We were all doing art and music as kids,” Wentzel says. “When I was a kid, I played the cello and took piano lessons, but neither were loud or physical enough for me.”
As a child, Winters found her inspiration in an unlikely place, Wetzel says. “Miranda found a cassette recorder and an air organ in the church basement when she was nine.”
Joining Melkbelly in Eugene is fellow ’90s grunge revivalists Bully. The band is touring behind its latest release, Losing, out now on SUB POP, and the record’s squelchy guitar chords and guttural bass lines recall the early grunge heyday of that legendary record label.
Vocalist Alicia Bognanno delivers I’m-a-loser-baby lines like “Cut my hair / I feel the same / Masturbate / I feel the same.” Elsewhere she allows her voice to explode into a pock-marked yelp worthy of Courtney Love.
Melkbelly and Bully perform with Eugene’s VCR 10 pm Saturday, Feb. 24, at Hi-Fi Music Hall Lounge; $12 advance, $15 door, 21-plus.