Monday, October 12, 2009

Come feel the Japanoise - Melt-Banana

I am going to slightly break with my own tradition today and talk about four albums here instead of my usual one – and, really, my only regret in that is that I can’t do more. But, unfortunately, there were only four Melt-Banana albums being sold at their ridiculously good Melbourne gig on Saturday night, as part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival. I bought them all.

Melt-Banana, hailing from Tokyo, produce a very unique stream of music that has become know, at least in some circles, as “Japanoise” – extreme noise rock from Japan: music that knocks you over as if you’ve just been pounded by a firing squad on speed.

It’s a four piece band, but they produce more notes in ten seconds than the average symphony orchestra would produce in a life-time. The music just blasts out at you at a ferocious speed, leaving even laser beams for dead.

The band’s vocals come mostly from Yasuko Onuki, who also writes the songs. And she fires out her music at you at a phenomenal pace – usually high, screechy staccato, impeccably synchronised with the drums, all delivered with such frenetic, brute force that I would have believed the whole thing had been electronically sped up, had I not seen her do it live on stage.

And with Rika Hamamoto playing her bass like it was a lead guitar and Ichirou Agata playing his lead guitar like it was a piece of radioactive steel, and synthesised electronics swooping into the music like a kamikaze jet, the whole effect leaves you aghast – like a massive spacecraft coming towards you at warp speed and you know you have only two choices: be destroyed by its force in less than a nano-second, or hop on board and go with it.

Despite the instantly recognisable style of Melt-Banana, there is some incredible variety in what they produce, and each of these four albums has its own flavour: the heavy unrelenting noise of Charlie; the highly experimental sounds of 13 Hedgehogs, with its 56 tracks, some scarcely ten seconds long; the more electronic sci-fi world of Cell-Scape; the constant changes of pace and colour, noise and music, of Bambi’s Dilemma.

If I could only take one of these albums with me onto my desert island, it would be Charlie – mad, manic music that just never lets up and yet is amazingly tightly managed and disciplined. Passages of crazy, fast bashings of notes from drums and guitars and vocals all manage to come to a sudden stop, without falling over, to take a half of a breath, if that, and then keep going again. These are musicians whose cohesion with each other, and whose sheer musical talent is matched only by their ingenuity and willingness to push every boundary and to break every rule.

But, as great and all as Charlie is, I would still beg and barter pretty well everything to be able to take the whole four of these albums onto the island with me too (and try to negotiate a laptop so I can order the rest online).

It’s a pity that Melt-Banana did only one performance in Melbourne and a pity that neither my speakers nor my neighbours would be able to tolerate me playing this music at the volume it deserves. It's music that takes the wind out of you – and you’re left gasping for breath, but only because you're trying to summons the energy to ask for more.

Thanks a zillion times to Marty R for introducing me to Melt-Banana!

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