The sound on Alive is far too muddy to do justice to the ferocious "Antitoxidote." The impossibly heavy "Boris," which in its original version on 1991's Bullhead wipes the mind clear of all thoughts, is rendered here almost completely ignorable. A pointless spoken intro to "It's Shoved" is annoying even the first time through the disc, though Osborne playing the riff from "Purple Haze" over the song's bass line (which, by the way, Nirvana borrowed for "Milk It") is a nice touch.

The best tracks on Alive are expansive numbers like "The Bloat," which showcases drummer Dale Crover's superlative power; his predatory timing would impress on an album recorded through a kids' tin-can telephone. This EP may be only a technological step above that, but until the band comes to town (no doubt opening, yet again, for some cornballs not fit to tune the Melvins' guitars) or finds the focus so abundant in their Atlantic catalogue, this is all the Melvins we're going to get. (Amphetamine Reptile, 2200 4th St. NE, Minneapolis, MN 55418)

-- Adam Heimlich

The Italian Flag
(Jet Set)

If publications such as Rolling Stone and Goldmine are to be believed, Prolapse and their fellow Scots are on to something. According to the scribes at those celebrated journals, Scottish alternative rock groups are currently riding a wave of collective recognition not seen since the Cardigans and the Dandy Warhols reminded us that there was more to those bands' native Sweden than reindeer, tall blondes, and wide-open attitudes about human sexuality. Although the alt-rock of Scotland is less pop and more avant-garde, it has struck a chord with rock critics.

And the critics may be right: Prolapse mixes highland folk, the psychedelic noise of the Velvet Underground, the jagged punk of the Fall, and low-fi electronica into an ear-catching scream for recognition from rock's underground. The Italian Flag, Prolapse's third album, is the band's most ingenious and diverse release to date, if not one of the great albums of the year.

The disc opens with a brash slap in the face. The confounding "Slash/Oblique" is, for the uninitiated, the perfect introduction to the Prolapse sound. Over a swelling surge of guitar noise backed by steady, pounding drums, Linda Steelyard's lush voice opens the song: "You will never understand me." A split second later she repeats, "I know I need my head examined" at a tongue-twisting rate, as drummer Tim Pattison pounds on his machine-gun tom-toms. But the delirious chanting of second vocalist Mick Derrick, who offers a counterverse in an unintelligible Scottish accent to each of Steelyard's refrains, best illustrates the band's rousing, and often very regional, perspective. Afterward, the band throttles the listener with "Deanshanger," an atonal surge of guitars and bagpipes with Derrick angrily spitting, "Do you remember the 1980s/The music was crap, the hair was crap."

But Prolapse doesn't restrict itself to grating spasms of anguish. The band does great pop, too. "Autocade," a song about the suspicious actions of a significant other, hints at their Stereolab influence and highlights Steelyard's sensuous voice above layers of bouncy guitar melodies, backed by chiming, driving, ambient-electronic sounds. Then there's "Tunguska," which recalls the angular guitar work of Gang of Four.

There isn't a throwaway on the album, a passionately crafted work that raises alternative rock to a new level. With the Italian Flag Prolapse has grafted modern eclecticism to the roots of past genius and has created something vital.

-- Hans Morgenstern

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