Intentionally or not, Tokyo’s Melt-Banana has grabbed hardcore’s sense of urgency by its thick head and rerouted it through a discordant, start-stop blare of No Wave and extreme noise. While this formula has endeared the quartet to punks, intellectuals and adrenaline-crazed youngsters (the latter constituency no doubt increased by a 1995 US tour supporting Mr. Bungle), it has also proved there’s much ground left to be explored in rock’s harder!-faster! realm.
Inimitable vocalist Yasuko Onuki is the first presence one feels on any Melt-Banana record. Her staccato shrieks complement the music and give the punk self-assuredness a childlike sense of play. Her lyrics, which read like Samuel Beckett-edited fairy tales, seem more useful for their phonetic impact than meaning, though there is a curious world to be found in such lines as “Neat meat bleats / repeat great pork / velvet, dragnet, trumpet / Who speaks to him?” Guitarist Agata Ichiro, deemed by none other than Jim O’Rourke as “pretty damn unstoppable,” uses pedals at his feet and the slide in his picking hand to segue from metallic grind to off-the-fretboard shrieking. Drummer Sudoh Toshiaki and bassist Rika Hamamoto bound through songs with extrasensory precision, alternating from grindcore blastbeats to DNA-like tumbles before a listener’s brain has time to register the difference.
Though all of the group’s releases are recommended, beginners are recommended to Scratch or Stitch for its widespread distribution and sonic diversity. Mixer Jim O’Rourke took a razor blade to engineer Steve Albini’s tapes, introducing intentional mistakes such as sound dropouts and turning the schizoid “EYE-Q Trader” in on itself. Yet, the album is unmistakably Melt-Banana.
The group’s split 10-inch with Iceland’s Stilluppsteypa delves further into studio trickery, with tastefully executed dub and cut-up techniques leaked into tracks such as “Capital 1060.” Some consider this Melt-Banana’s best release (it certainly hints at a new direction); others favor the brilliantly one-dimensional debut album, Speak Squeak Creak, which fires off 24 hyperkinetic rounds in 30 minutes. Since then, Melt-Banana has gotten more abstract, emphasizing the bizarre sense of humor that lightens the music’s tension while maintaining the microscopic focus that drives it home.
Chipfarm, a collaboration of Melt-Banana, Elliott Sharp, Zeena Parkins and Optical 8, released a 1996 album. Melt-Banana has also worked on unrecorded projects with countrymates such as Violent Onsen Geisha (Onsen-Banana) and Merzbow (Merz-Banana).