Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Album Review: Melt-Banana - Fetch

Album Rating:B+
For 20 years now, Tokyo, Japan’s Melt-Banana has been cranking out album after album of experimental, noisy hardcore (with a few tweaks here and there, of course), and somehow, this unconventional duo, comprised of yelping, energetic vocalist, Yasuko Onuki (Yako), and schizophrenic musical programming mastermind, Ichirou Agata, is still at the top of their game. With six years between 2007’s Bambi’s Dilemma, an 18-track onslaught of hardcore, noise and pop, and 2013’s Fetch, fans were right to expect an impressive follow up, and although the demos for Fetch were ready to go in March of 2011, the devastating Fukushima earthquake and resulting tsunami forced the band to put the record on hold—until now. 

The extra two years the band had to mull over their 2011 demos has contributed immensely to the writing and production on Fetch.  The album finds Melt-Banana exploring the furthest reaches of what they can and can’t do (but will anyways) with their instruments and styles, and they have never sounded better. The sound quality is vastly superior to anything the band has released in the past, with its crisp, full drums and enveloping guitar sounds layering Yako’s surprisingly powerful voice with impressive clarity. Purists in the hardcore scene may cry foul over the tight production, instead favoring a more natural, sloppy approach, but given the amount of programmed noise Agata has employed in the past with his tones, drums and effects, a wider, fuller sound seems like the perfect sonic progression for Fetch.

Album opener, “Candy Gun,” begins with a section of spacey ambience, recalling some of the best moments of Cell-Scape, before blasting into a nasty, but extremely catchy bassline, and that’s when we know: Melt-Banana has landed. For the next 32 minutes, the duo roars through another 11 tracks of unstoppable energy and innovation. “Left Dog (Run, Caper, Run)” and “Lie Lied Lies” are both welcomed returns to the band’s fast, heavy style paired with programmed effects, which wasn’t as prominent on Bambi’s Dilemma, and the latter even finds a way to sneak in a catchy, mid-tempo bridge. The late album one-two punch of “Red Data, Red Stage” and “Then Red Eyed” continues this aggression, with Yako sounding equally angrier and darker than she ever has in the past, barking out lines like “Killed and dead / I rebuild the meaningless lonely blood.”

Agata shines on the more experimental tracks throughout the album, such as “Infection Defective,” where this effects wizard somehow finds a way to make his guitar sound like a synthesizer, moving at lightning speed over a mostly mid-tempo drum beat. The following track, “My Missing Link,” begins with an extended noisy introduction, further demonstrating Agata’s proficiency in creating complex soundscapes with only a guitar, and his strings continue to sound absolutely huge throughout the piece, incorporating some Wah and glitch effects during the melodic chorus, which, amazingly, doesn’t feel too overcrowded with different noises.

The album's only missteps come in the form of uncreative drum programming.  "Vertigo Game," while a refreshing breath of hardcore aggression, finds Melt-Banana lazily employing excessive blast beats to crank up the energy of the song at multiple points, when we all know the duo is far more innovative than that.  Their outdated overuse almost recalls the band's songwriting from the Scratch or Stitch days, which will, of course, always have its special place in the Melt-Banana discography, but because the duo has significantly improved their songwriting since then, the drum programming should reflect that growth.

At the same time, though, part of what makes Fetch so great is its masterful combination of the old and new, feeling both surprising and familiar to anyone who has listened to Melt-Banana in the past 20 years. On the same record, we have the band’s most melodic track (“Zero”), most experimental (“Zero+”), most aggressive (“Red Data, Red Stage”), and even the most alternative sounding, resembling an old Story of the Year song (“Schemes of the Tails”). To compress two decades’ worth of sounds and styles into one thirty minute bundle is no easy feat, but Fetch comes to stand as a skillful mosaic of the amorphous noise juggernaut that Melt-Banana has become since their 1993 inception. As a band that has never released the same album twice, forever expanding upon that which came before, one can only imagine how fast Yako and Agata will be programming their way across musical spacetime the next time around.


Track List:
1. Candy Gun
2. The Hive
3. Vertigo Game
4. Lefty Dog (Run, Caper, Run)
5. Infection Defective
6. My Missing Link
7. Zero+
8. Schemes of the Tails
9. Lie Lied Lies
10. Red Data, Red Stage
11. Then Red Eyed
12. Zero

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