Japanese noise rock band Melt Banana found more success in the U.S. and the U.K. than in their own country, gaining a small but dedicated fan base among American and European punk rock fans. Although their music sounds noticeably different from any sort of traditional punk, it contains some punk elements: shrieking vocals, overdriven guitars, and one-and-a-half-minute songs. Melt Banana's unique style, however, comes as a result of the distinctly piercing vocals of lead singer Yasuko O., as well as the frenzied, effect-charged playing of guitarist Agata. Searing, intense, and mind-blowingly fast are perhaps the first adjectives that come to mind when listening to Melt Banana's music. Try to imagine an even more energetic incarnation of the Boredoms.
But, for many, the appeal of Melt Banana is not entirely limited to their music. Yasuko O.'s lyrics and song titles reflect a Japanese pop culture that is fascinating and strange, yet attractive to many non-Japanese fans. Melt Banana have capitalized on this phenomenon heavily in their merchandising as well as on their albums. As time passes, their overshadowing influence is becoming more and more evident within the cultish following of the noise-core movement. However, Melt Banana have gained the most recognition from their incredible severity and furious sound. Their shockingly intense live shows are that of sheer legend, with many fans leaving sweaty and exhausted, and Yasuko O. often persevering through nosebleeds.
Agata and O. joined bassist Rika in 1992, and they played as a trio until later that year when drummer Sudoh Toshiaki joined the group. In 1994 they signed with British label Chocolate Monk, and that label released one title, Cactuses Come in Flocks, which was initially made available only on cassette tape. They later signed to Skin Graft and released their second album that year, Speak Squeak Creak, followed by Scratch or Stitch in 1995. Scratch or Stitch was recorded and mixed by Chicago avant-garde masters Steve Albini and Jim O'Rourke, and showcases some of Melt Banana's best work.
After releasing a large number of split releases on various labels, late in 1997 Melt Banana started their own label, A-Zap Records. Toshiaki quit the band the following month and was later replaced with Oshima from Satanic Hell Slaughter. In 1998, the band released Charlie, with Albini acting as producer again, and elected to up the ante by adding a variety of guests (including Mr. Bungle's Mike Patton and Trevor Dunn). This attracted the attention of Bungle producer and noise experimentalist John Zorn, who captured one of their wild shows for his Tzadik label that year, just before Melt Banana returned to the studio to record the typically crazed Teeny Shiny in 2000.
Six more split records and a Peel session later, they released 2003's Cell-Scape, which focused more on slowly building the wailing screeches into a rocketing ferocity. The 2005 release 13 Hedgehogs compiled 56 tracks from six years' worth of the band's numerous 7" EPs and split releases. After their longest recording break, Melt Banana returned in 2007 with Bambi's Dilemma, which reverted back to even shorter, faster blasts of musical adrenaline. Two years later, the band returned with the guitarless side project album Lite Live: Ver.0.0. In 2011, the band's recording sessions were stalled after the Tohoku earthquake and subsequent meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant made progress difficult. When Melt Banana did finally return with 2013's Fetch, O. and Agata had stripped the band back to a duo format. Return of 13 Hedgehogs, the group's second singles retrospective (covering the years 2000 to 2009), appeared in 2015. ~ Ben Tausig & Jason Lymangrover