The Backward Path, the second of Dan Melchior‘s two 2012 LPs, was a weighty listen: At that point, Letha Rodman Melchior, the renowned rocker’s wife and collaborator, had been battling cancer for more than two years, enduring chemotherapy and experimental treatments. Dan fervently reaffirms his devotion on the album, exploring their predicament with a cynical bite. It is a tribute to her courage, and it is crushing.

K-85, Melchior’s LP follow-up, doesn’t deal with the same formidable subject matter. But the new album does utilize a similar structure, interspersing five proper rock songs between seven messy sound collages. There’s simply no thematic binding, though these songs and fragments do share a sense of unyielding paranoia.

The songs zero in on persistent fearspersonal betrayal, institutional greed, communication breakdowns. Melchior is fixated on the details and disturbingly anxious, so his arrangements follow suit. Eerie guitars noodle nervously as keyboard drones and dense fuzz induce claustrophobia. The music ambles ahead steadily, but there’s tension always bubbling at the surface. It’s like taking a stroll in the dark, alone and stonedyou keep moving, but you just know there’s something terrible ahead.

Though few, the structured songs overflow with barbs. “You’re no longer somebody’s child,” Melchior quips, “you’ve got your own supermarket discount cards.” He’s harsher elsewhere: “They want to sell you some extortionate shit,” he moans, “then they want to watch you roll around in it.” His dealings with doctors and insurance providers seem to have hardened his disposition.

The instrumentals feel thin by comparison, but they too have their payloads. For two minutes, the mostly aimless “Kilroy” cycles through disorienting distortion, but Melchior blows it all up near the end, unleashing fits of fizzling static. It’s a lightbulb offering its final, bright burst at death.

K-85 isn’t as heavy as Melchior’s last LP. That doesn’t keep it from making an impact just the same.

Label: Homeless Records

This article appeared in print with the headline “Overdue payoffs, new promises.”