Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Hardcore Heaven

Melt Banana (Japanoise)
iPod choice: Key is a Fact that a Cat Brings (2003)

My favorite Japanese band is the extraordinary Melt Banana. Not only do they have the coolest, most perfect name for a Japanese noisecore group, but they create one of the most exhilarating, hair-raising sounds you can imagine.

Formed in the early 1990s and long-admired in underground circles, Melt Banana remain largely unknown in their home country. Their
skewed take on Japanese pop culture is a refreshing and cobweb-clearing antidote to soporific J-pop.

Melt Banana songs
usually cut to the chase, the band having deleted with cruel precision parts which they feel are superfluous. For instance, We Love Choco-Pa, a song which like many Melt Banana tunes probes Japan's consumer culture, is a titanic 18 seconds long. In that sense Melt Banana hearken back to British act Wire – another personal favorite of mine – whose first LP Pink Flag featured few songs which lasted more than a minute.

Although their palette includes edgy soundscapes like Drug Store and Phantasmogoria, a typical Banana assault starts with a barrage of sonic screeches before the band head full tilt into a downhill spin, waylaying everything in their path. Melt Banana are, incidentally, a fabulous live act, and one entertaining highlight of their set is where they play ten songs in two minutes. You certainly couldn’t accuse them of outstaying their welcome.

Instrumentally, noisecore demands a fearsomely disciplined approach, and in this department Melt Banana are formidable. Sudoh Toshiaki (drums) and Rika Mmm (bass) are a powerful, rhythmically precise unit, and in Ichirou Agata Melt Banana have one of the most talented and inventive punk-influenced guitar players around.

Like Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood, Agata uses an impressive battery of effects pedals to modify his sound, coming up with a maelstrom of Playstation laser stabs and 747-screeches which sound nothing like guitar licks at all. But when he finally launches into one of his trademark riffs, all hell breaks loose and you know you’re in hardcore heaven. Agata wears a surgical mask on stage to cover his occasional nosebleeds. Talk about suffering for your art.

Agata's armory (Photo: Bill T. Miller)

If Hello Kitty dropped speed and formed a band, she would probably sound like Yako Onuki, a charismatic frontwoman whose shrieking vocals are unique in punk or any other genre. Recognizing that the Japanese language generally isn’t suited to rock ‘n’ roll, Yako's lyrics are written in English, though many fans may not be aware of the fact. Words emerge in stuttering torrents, expressing the information overload of modern Japanese life. Their dark edginess passes in a flash and frustrates the absorption of overt meaning.

Key is a Fact that a Cat Brings is probably my favorite Melt Banana song. It‘s hard to say exactly what it’s about - Yako writes with the aid of a dictionary, taking inspiration from the sound of words - but its amazing rush ("Let me see what you need make your brain breathe like a screen seen in your wheeze") expresses the dysfunctional isolation of individuals struggling for self-definition amid the frenzied hyper-unreality that is Japan.

Melt Banana home page:
Melt Banana MySpace:


kazami said...

Interesting you should mention Wire...
Melt Banana were their support band when I saw them a couple of years ago in Shinsaibashi's Club Quattro.

Shiffi Le Soy said...

Well well well! I guess that goes to show that Wire and Melt Banana are kindred spirits! How was melt Banana's performance that night?

Thanks, Kazami-san!

kazami said...

Well,you were spot on with the connection there!
Melt Banana were their usual selves which was good and bad at the same time.
I always welcome artists heading in new directions instead of sticking to their hackneyed formulas which they did all too often.
We were a lot more curious about Wire,
after all these years...
It proved a terrible mistake.
Some things are best left untouched,unheard,unseen...

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