Getting Into: Melt-Banana
The articles in this series begun by our own Baz Anderson are designed to give a brief overview of a band's entire discography, so as to provide a clear point of entry for the uninitiated. It offers a different approach from the typical review format, for the curious newcomer to a well-traveled band.
Noise punk, experimental rock, grindcore, noisecore, hardcore punk
Picture The Damned. Now replace Dave Vanian's noble baritone with mousy tittering more akin to Kirby's chipmunk vocalizations, Captain Sensible with a masked stack of effects pedals and hemorrhagic feedback, Rat Scabies with a machine, and Algy Ward with a Japanese woman who otherwise suitably resembles Algy Ward. This is Melt-Banana, a cheery and unorthodox punk band whose unflagging enthusiasm has transformed the group into an endless well of indiscriminate and indecipherable intrigue. From a near-average noise punk quartet to an experimental grindcore trio to a something something duo, Melt-Banana has grown as it has shrunk and progressed as it has approached normality. The spastic blur of swirling motion and noise that is Melt-Banana has managed to turn some heads in its 20+ years of existence, if more out of confusion and curiosity than anything else.
|Speak, Squeak, Creak (1994)|
Speak, Squeak, Creak seeks to answer the question, "How can noise punk be made even less accessible?" Melt-Banana starts with a mildly familiar template of quick-firing, seemingly aimless blurs of fuzz verging on pure noisecore. A few surprisingly unorthodox riffs part the sea of constant battering, but the band's strange call-and-response approach to pairing guitar and bass lines breaks down the cohesion of the album. Populated largely by palm-muted guitar scratching, frenzied bass pounding, and awkward, lurching disjuncture, Speak, Squeak, Creak makes a strange and not altogether satisfying impression. Like any Melt-Banana album, Speak, Squeak, Creak has certain unique qualities that make it occasionally entertaining, but it is also the least interesting entry in the band's discography.
Standout Tracks: "Dust Head," "Cut Off," "Switch"
|Scratch Or Stitch (1995)|
Scratch Or Stitch pulls back from the frontier explored by Speak, Squeak, Creak; on Melt-Banana's sophomore offering, the instrumental parts are in greater accord and the songs are more straightforward, even if they still amount to brief, distorted impulses. Though Scratch Or Stitch is less aggressively inaccessible, the band still had a lot of evolution to undergo before they could produce any truly memorable or thought-provoking material, and the album presents the same bewildering sense of a whirlwind incapable of being nailed down and appreciated.
Standout Tracks: "Rough Dogs Have Bumps," "Iguana In Trouble," "It's In The Pillcase"
There is always something interesting happening on this album. Not only are the songs more coherent, cohesive, and substantial than ever before, but Agata has so refined his guitar playing and Yako her singing style that no moment of Charlie seems lacking in purpose, no opportunity missed to play around with a novel concept. Finally Melt-Banana has learned to shape real riffs and songs out of feedback, distortion, pinch harmonics, string scratching, and random assaults of miscellaneous noise. The jerky, uninviting formula of the first two albums goes out the window with the Lords Regent. Charlie may still be noise punk and grindcore, but it is played with so much more conviction and so many exotic techniques. Fans of the decadently avant-garde will also be ecstatic to learn that "Area 877" is largely the members of Mr. Bungle saying "Melt-Banana" over and over again.
Standout Tracks: "Spathic!!", "Circle-Jack (Chase The Magic Words, Lego Lego)", "Cannot," "Introduction For Charlie"
|Teeny Shiny (2000)|
Teeny Shiny is less aggressively off-the-wall than Charlie; being Melt-Banana, the album is still far from normal, but it stays on the same wavelength most of the time and has a little more in common with traditional grindcore (only a little). Teeny Shiny hurtles along with the same spastic momentum as the band's first two albums, but also seizes on the Charlie concept of writing discrete, fleshed-out songs. With instrumentation that actually sounds unified and some more flattering production, Teeny Shiny is the heaviest and most abrasive Melt-Banana album to date and makes for a good introduction to the band.
Standout Tracks: "Free The Bee," "First Contact To Planet Q," "Warp, Back Spin," "Lost In Mirror"
Cell-Scape demonstrates a shocking maturation for Melt-Banana. The album feels unusually conventional due to its less microscopic track lengths, more fluid transitions, and flirtation with verse-chorus-verse structure. Combined with Melt-Banana's persistent and unique style, the focused, variegated songwriting allows Cell-Scape to transcend the boundaries of its genre (to the extent that one can be identified). The chaos finally seems as artful and meticulous as it is inexplicable, leveraging squeedly non-riffs against proper vocal lines, while the periodic breaks in rhythm hang in balance with brakeless punk charges. The first true song on the album provides perhaps the best example of Agata's "feedback=riff" philosophy; the rest of the album goes on to crystallize the Melt-Banana aesthetic, but the ten-minute atmospheric closer throws off any expectations for the band that may have settled in over the preceding tracks. Cell-Scape shows off Melt-Banana at its best.
Standout Tracks: "Chain-Shot To Have Some Fun," "Lost Parts Stinging Me So Cold," "Shield Your Eyes, A Beast In The Well On Your Hand," "Key Is A Fact That A Cat Brings"
|Bambi's Dilemma (2007)|
Bambi's Dilemma steps back from pushing boundaries to let Melt-Banana get settled with the sound they discovered on the last two albums. While feedback still wails endlessly alongside ludicrous sound effects and the presence of a four-minute ambient odyssey ("Type: Ecco System") preserves the sense of unexpectedness, Bambi's Dilemma crams those supersonic bursts of random speed and ringing blasts of high-pitched noise into barely-contained punk songs and poppy melodies. Bambi's Dilemma contains more "singing" and "chord progressions" in the conventional senses than Cell-Scape, perhaps a sign of Melt-Banana finally settling into an identity, but none of the band's trademark energy or spontaneity falls away.
Standout Tracks: "Spider Snipe," "Blank Page Of The Blind," "Cracked Plaster Cast," "Dog Song"
Here Melt-Banana delivers the logical successor to Cell-Scape that Bambi's Dilemma was not. The first half of Fetch is business as usual for Melt-Banana: blindingly bright guitar sirens, Yako's delightful interjections, and breakneck melodies that seem more accessible than they should be. In the second half, though, Melt-Banana takes an unprecedented leap forward. Collapsible rhythms, stuttering riffs, effects of all descriptions, and unutterable-yet-catchy choruses funnel into fully-developed musical journeys that, even when only two minutes long, deliver some new striking atmosphere or mood. For the first time, there are even songs with some emotional weight. Fetch, as always, captures a band in the throes of evolution, mixing in tried-and-true elements unique to this duo and previously unheard explorations that will no doubt lead to something truly fascinating on Melt-Banana Part VIII, whenever it sees the light of day.
Standout Tracks: "My Missing Link," "Candy Gun," "Schemes Of The Tails," "The Hive"
Melt-Banana makes loud, raw, ear-splitting music, but there is no malice or visceral, metal feeling behind it; the band is more rambunctious than wrathful. The lyrical content underscores Melt-Banana's generally friendly nature: the lyrics to any given song are merely tongue-twisters and whimsical nonsense. If something has been lost in translation, then it has been very well-disguised over all these years and incarnations; the band's career sounds and feels like flights of fancy and derailed trains of thought rather than actual gibberish. In fact, considering the delightfully ridiculous lyrics, the preponderance of animal references, and the uniquely endearing quality of Yako's voice, Melt-Banana is, quite simply, cute. On a reasonably opposite plane, the band has also demonstrated an impressive capacity for musical progression, and the last album suggests that further experimentation may be on the horizon. Melt-Banana has never outgrown its characteristic appeal, however, and hopefully never will.
||Written on 17.03.2017 by I'm the reviewer, and that means my opinion is correct.|
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