Melt-Banana Proves Experimental Thrash Punk Can Be Accessible
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Like a front snap punch to the throat, Melt-Banana's erratic noise will shower you with peals of explosive abandon not unlike Foetus' or Drive Like Jehu's. The Japanese noise duo -- Yasuko Onuki, responsible for the band's chirping, hyperactive vocals, and Ichirou Agata, who likes to layer his guitar riffs and funnel them through an enormous pedal board -- formed when the two met at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies in the early '90s.
Nearly 25 years later, the band is still cranking out explosive albums (it's on number 10, as of 2013, with another coming out this month) and seems to tour nonstop. But little has changed, in terms of Melt-Banana's avant-garde approach to experimental thrash punk.
In 1993, MxBx (as it is sometimes abbreviated) was introduced to Mark Fischer of Skin Graft Records and Steve Albini. Soon afterward, Albini (whose work, spanning approximately 1,500 albums, is most notable for producing Nirvana's ) recorded the band's debut album, , in a basement in Chicago. Not a single song is longer than two and a half minutes, while the untitled bonus track is simply all 24 songs played simultaneously. In order to learn more about the band's creative process, we fielded some questions to the duo via e-mail.
Despite being from Tokyo, Melt-Banana sings mostly in English (not that you can always decipher them). Onuki says she prefers the language because it fits her style of singing better. But her lyrics are typically a word salad of Dadaist nonsense, such as "Mouse is a biscuit" or "Flash cube, or eyeball." Onuki's freeform style of writing is actually liberating, if not disarming. No, you don't have to color in the lines.
In terms of accessibility, most fans note 2003's Cell-Scape as veering toward a more hi-fi sound incorporating electronic instruments. But MxBx isn't really concerned whether you find its tunes listenable.
"Actually, we think our first album was already pretty accessible," Agata says. "But I kind of understand what you mean . . . We care about what we like to do or try more than how people think about what we have done."
Guitarist Agata is easily recognizable by the surgical masks he wears onstage. Originally, the masks were to stop his frequent nosebleeds ("He has a little problem in his blood," Onuki says) but now he says he just feels comfortable wearing them.
She adds: "We always try to write catchy music, and it seems that our latest album, Fetch , was also accepted by many people. When we started the band, we tried to get rid of exact chords or tones, like C or B, when we write songs. And I think it made some people think that our music is not accessible . . . I think music sounds different depending on mood or feeling of people who listen to it. Music is fuzzy, you know."
This begs a question -- would a Melt-Banana by any other name squelch as sickly? To answer that question, MxBx created Melt-Banana Lite, which drops the guitar for a Theremin and drum machine. But for the group's upcoming show in Phoenix, you can expect nothing but full-bodied Melt-Banana. The group will be joined by Rhode Island's Lightning Bolt.
"They are one of our favorite bands since we first played with them in the '90s," Agata says. "This show is the only show we're playing with them on this tour, so we're very excited."
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