Bruised Yet Satisfied, Diffident Yet Charming
Melt-Banana Yowls, Ashley Ericksson Croons
For the two-decade-strong Japanese spazz-rock outfit Melt-Banana, it’s been a full six years since the previous studio album, Bambi’s Dilemma, and four years since the group’s transcendentally insane hot-wired live album, released under the moniker “Melt-Banana Lite” to mark the uncharacteristic guitar-free, bass-free configuration.
So what happened in the intervening years? Fukushima happened. Melt-Banana has always been partial to having animal-themed titles, but on the latest studio album, Fetch, nature is presented in a different context; side A opens with the sound of ocean waves in the morning, and the side closes with the songs of frogs, insects and birds at night, ominously. What’s in-between is utter sonic chaos. Is there a subconscious (or conscious) theme of humans and nature, punishing each other? Maybe, but Melt-Banana has always been about punishing music, anyway.
The current lineup of Melt-Banana is the duo of vocalist Yako, who sings with a staccato projectile barking style, as if a human version of the cartoon character Itchy (or Scratchy), and guitarist Agata, who loves to concoct the sickest sounding guitar noises possible, plus an over-clocked drum machine.
It’s not enough to be unbelievably fast and precise; there is a truly demented yet inspired quality that infects the music of Melt-Banana on Fetch, which is like some unholy cybernetic amalgam of thrash, hardcore and metal.
One highlight, “Left Dog (Run, Caper, Run),” is a sterling example of the twisted frenzy of the band with Agata’s trademark gliding, and “Infection Defective” features his manic shredding, sounding like tiny buzzing robotic flying insects.
Fetch is up to snuff, on par with previous albums like Cell-Scape or Bambi’s Dilemma, and it cannot sit in the background and must be played at a sufficiently loud volume; the listener, to a degree, needs to let himself go as if a stage diver who has faith in the people who will catch and carry him.
At the end of the cartoon violence, the listener will feel pummeled, like having gone through a brutal massage and left bruised yet satisfied.
Come along with me and the butterflies and bees…”—youngsters, parents and the young at heart know these words from the adorable closing theme song of the animated show Adventure Time, which is an adapted solo version of “Christmas Island” by Lake, performed by Lake member Ashley Eriksson.
Eriksson’s latest solo effort, Colours, is no less adorable although permeated with a wistful attitude among the reserved pop lightheartedness. Hints of classic pop elements infuse the proceedings while never being heavy-handed, like the mystery of Lee Hazlewood or the familiar Beach Boys keyboard quarter notes.
They mingle with an indie D.I.Y. homemade pop aesthetic that is simultaneously elegant and thrifty, unashamed to use cheap keyboard sounds among more refined string and euphonium flourishes.
Eriksson’s voice varies only a small amount over the course of the 13-track album, being clear, unadorned and unpretentious; it’s neither naïve-sounding nor disingenuous, with nothing to hide—sweet but not saccharin.
Eriksson elevates the mundane, the way Jonathan Richman or Evan Dando of the Lemonheads might, like on “Sunset,” written during a time when Eriksson was kicking the nicotine habit; she sings, “Well I really miss smoking / Well I really miss my phone” among the vaguely reggae piano chords on the upbeats and the upright bass and euphonium enhanced low end. Included is a cover of “Ett Stilla Regn” (“The Pacific Rain” in Swedish) by Ted Gärdestad, a contemporary of ABBA, offering a version that is somewhat more bouncy than the original with calliope keyboards and a Ringo-esque minimal drum beat.
Eriksson’s goals aren’t too ambitious; however, for this kind of unflashy yet playful pop, they don’t need to be, largely accomplishing what was set out to do. The diffident yet charming romps on Colours are perhaps like mini weekend adventures at friends’ bungalows in distant towns, being cozy and comforting while offering the pleasure of being somewhere new.