Sure, the Japanese pop culture spectrum has an abundance of too-adorable kitsch (Hello Kitty's only the tip of the iceberg) countered by an incredibly dark side (just Google the word hentai). But what's even more fascinating -- and somehow a little less familiar to foreigners -- is the stuff that's both cute and evil. Like Mori Chak's cuddly pink Gloomy Bear character, who grows up into a bloodthirsty terror, or those Harajuku girls who style their lacy Little Bo Peep costumes with eye bandages or some fake blood seeping from their lips. Tokyo avant-metal noisecore group Melt Banana is the musical equivalent of that bizarre aesthetic -- abrasive, heavy and jackhammer-fast, but with an endearingly bouncy sheen. Guitarist Agata Ichiro shreds head-spinning thrash riffs that fly like sparks, while front woman YaSuKo O.'s unintelligible baby squeaks lend a strange pop-sweetness to the wicked onslaught. Count John Zorn, Mike Patton, and Jim O'Rourke as longtime fans, but don't kick yourself if you're late to this insider party; 13 Hedgehogs, a collection of singles from 1994 to 1999, is out this month for your head-banging pleasure.
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