Melt Banana are one of those bands. I find myself frequently invoking false archetypes when introducing records at our meetings. It’s lazy and reductive, but sometimes it helps. Melt Banana are one of those bands who sound like a joke the first time you hear them. They’re also one of those bands it would be easy to bracket with poorly considered national stereotypes. Once more, these can be illustrative in some instances, so i’ll trot a couple out. They sound like hyper-accellerated electro-death-thrash from the year 2050. They’re from Tokyo.
The joke bit comes when you first get to hear them in full flight. Their songs often last no more than 30 seconds, and in that space of time pack in four shifts in signature, half and dozen stop-starts and enough tinitus-replicating vocals to send you to check either your turntable or your inner ears. Much as Ichirou Agata’s guitar playing is both exhilarating and blistering, it’s Yasuko Onuki’s vocals which get me every time. She sounds like a pixie being squeezed to death and fighting hard to get free. She sounds like a particularly deranged DJ scratching a Pinky and Perky record. She sounds amazing. The whole band sounds amazing. It’s… sort of hard to explain.
I came across them when their third album ‘Scratch or Stitch’ came to me as a reviewer. I had no idea what to make of them so I filed them away until a couple of years later when, inevitably, I heard John Peel playing them. They’re one of those bands too. The ones Peel would throw on just because they sounded nothing like anything he’d ever heard before. The trouble with those bands, the ones John Peel used to play, the ones that sound like the soundtrack to a particularly bent Chris Morris sketch, the ones for whom you have no frame of reference, is that they often turn out to be doing something genuinely original, something that worms (or blasts) its way into your body and refuses to leave. Melt Banana are one of those bands.
I had no idea what the Club would make of them, but it was important to bring this record along. It’s their most accessible, if not their most typical, and sooner or later, I had to play it. There’s little point me trying to describe it any further, but you really ought to try to hear it if you can. Suffice to say that as the first track proper, ‘Shield For Your Eyes A Beast In The Well On Your Hand’ kicked into it’s full fury, Nick started to laugh uncontrollably. Like I said, laughter is a frequent reaction, but then it’s the giddy rush that gets you. One of those bands.
Tom Listened: Hmmmmmmmm………like sticking your head in a food mixer full of bees. Beguiling yet painful. Cell-scape certainly conjured up the ghost of John Peel, and you can definitely imagine Him giggling away to himself off air as he inflicted Melt Banana on his loyal listeners waiting eagerly for the next Wedding Present re-issue or something. And whilst it was a tough listen I sort of liked it, a bit like I like pulling off scabs or watching England lose at cricket or cycling up a 25% gradient Devonian lane. Much like Cell-scape, those other (dubious) pleasures are not something I actively seek out but if I happen upon them I am kind of glad they were there. Another intriguing offering from the Monstershark.
Nick listened: This was great fun; bonkers, head-shredding millenial cyberpunk tempos and juxtapositions (those guitars! those drums! that tiny squeaking girl’s voice atop the maelstrom!) made either no sense, or else perfect sense, after the really rather beatific, minimal electro opening that could almost, sans the squals, have been something from Kompakt. The Japanese music that people like I come across, for the most part (stuff mediated by Pitchfork essentially), is stuff like this, and Boredoms, and Acid Mothers Temple, and less crazy stuff like Cornelius and Susumu Yokota, and it paints a very strange picture of what contemporary Japanese culture must be like. Especially when you consider other cultural objects from Akira to Audition to Battle Royale to Tetsuo: The Iron Man. I’ve never given J-Pop any listening time, but things I’ve read suggest that it’s just as mental compared to our pop music as this kidn of stuff is when compared to our… alternative? experimental? I have no idea of when or where I would ever listen to this again, but I’m glad I have.
Graham Listened: Yikes !!! I can’t recall ever describing an album in such a way, but this was certainly out there. Saying that, I was getting in to the complexity/mania/tightness of the playing but the vocals just kept getting in the way for me. Good listen to know what Japanese counter-culture can produce, but can’t say I would try it again. Should I find myself in a neighbourly noise dispute, it’s good to have this as an option to deploy.