Passing listeners could be forgiven for missing the little cues on the opening and closing of Dale Crover’s third solo LP, Rat-A-Tat-Tat!, out now via Joyful Noise Recordings. The inverted and oddly clipped loops of snare and hi-hat form a kind of circle, bonding the short, avant-experimental opener “Moclips” with the waning moments of the more traditional closer, “Kiss Proof World.” But if there’s any thesis to this musical grab-bag, it’s that Mr. Crover doesn’t have to bury opaque circular patterns in his album sequence to get us itching to spin this thing end to end time and again.
Crover’s solo work always has operated at quite a bit of a distance from his day gig as drummer for punk-metal icons Melvins, or from his work with Altamont and others, for that matter. Though his 1992 self-titled KISS-style solo EP fit the mold of bandmate Buzz Osborne and company here and there, 2017’s awesome The Fickle Finger of Fate was positively chameleonic, with Crover managing to keep the oddest of conceits not just afloat but chugging along and chugging along admirably. Rat-A-Tat-Tat! follows in the footsteps of the latter, a kind of trick-or-treat experience with Crover’s musical demons. You never quite know what to expect from track to track and that’s a wondrous trick, well-initiated and well-played.
Crover recorded most of the instrumentation on the LP track by track, giving the impression of a band. It could be anything from the dirgy Foetus-isms of “Stumbler” and whacko drum freak-out exercises (“Piso Mojado”) to straight-from-the-hip psych pop (“I Can’t Help you There,” with its Paul Leary guitar leads) or, dare we say, a power-ballad (the aforementioned “Kiss Proof World”). There’s not a sound that isn’t pursued to its logical (or, frankly, illogical) end and presented in bold letters in this bizarre little sonic tapestry.
There also – and we fear the wrath of some Melvin-ites for suggesting this – are “singles” here in the vein of the slithery and addictive “Bad Move” from The Fickle Finger of Fate. The bright-eyed ‘60s bop of “Shark Like Overbite” (it’s about his dogs) has a sugary verse/chorus/verse charm to it not very far removed from something as distinctly non-Melvins as The Lovin’ Spoonful. Or there’s the bluesy “Untrue Crime,” with its jagged-edge and chunky lead guitar chords. Or “New Pharaoh,” which is driven by a trademark Crover locked groove (juicy!) and distilled through the gauze of distorted vocals and found sounds. This says nothing for nuanced bits of atmospheric pseudo-rock like the unreal and semi-acoustic “I’ll Never Tell,” which, if we’re tracing trajectories right, is what Cobain’s and Crover’s Fecal Matter experiment would sound like if it had survived to 2021.
It’s tough to write – we hail King Buzzo and all – but Crover’s growing solo oeuvre encourages deeper readings on his contributions to Melvins, as frontman Osborne’s solo efforts have teetered more toward the monochromatic. Osborne’s last solo outing, released in COVID times as well, was a more nuanced affair than 2014’s acoustic This Machine Kills Artists but neither that nor its predecessor, another 1992 KISS-style EP, show the depth Crover puts on display here. With Rat-A-Tat-Tat!, Crover continues to make an argument for his chops as a songwriter in his own right – and the owner of an observant set of musical ears. It’s not every day one of the best drummers in the business releases a record, played almost entirely by themselves, that’s this good. That’s reason enough to celebrate its arrival. — Justin Vellucci, Spectrum Culture, Jan. 24, 2021