Confection of Noise
Melt-Banana talks fetch, Fukushima and pink noise
By Nate Daly
I moved to Albuquerque in May 2007. I’d driven nonstop from Oakland, Calif. in a U-Haul with my best friend riding shotgun and a pickup in tow. During the long drive, we listened to a lot of Drive-By Truckers; we played “The Sands of Iwo Jima” over and over. He learned it on guitar while we drove, and in my stoned, sleepless delirium, my Patterson Hood-falsetto was magnificent. The tune’s nostalgia made it a good “leaving California” song for me.
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As the sun crawled over the Sandias, we rolled into Albuquerque and piled my possessions inside the house. When finished, we walked to the Subway on Lomas for poor sustenance. Green chile on a sandwich? Sure, all of that. I guess I live here now.
After terrible deli meats and Tecate, we were in a state of restless disorientation. Going to sleep would be counterproductive and—with so much nervous energy flowing through us—impossible. Where was I? Why did I move here? What happens in this town? Melt-Banana appeared on the Alibi radar. Son of a gun. Radical shows do come through the desert.
We went to see them in a haze. I knew the band well, but I had never seen them live. Fucking hell, what a show. If you want to see Melt-Banana live, be prepared for a pummeling. The band has one speed, and it’s a punishing ride. Their sharp, breathless attack was an intense, sweat-drenching experience that snapped me out of my moving melancholy and into stark clarity and the reality of my new home.
If you want to see Melt-Banana live, be prepared for a pummeling. The band has one speed, and it’s a punishing ride.
I’m leaving New Mexico now. ... or trying to. My house has been on the market for several months; you should buy it. My children were born here, and I love this city and the people who live here, but employment and family are sending me home.
And Melt-Banana is returning, bookending my high-desert residence. I caught up with them in Tokyo via email. After a setback of nuclear meltdown proportions, the band has now released fetch, their first album in six years. The 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami killed almost 16,000 people, and that experience gave the band pause.
“I feel that something has been changed in my mind, and everything seems [to look] differently for me,” said vocalist Yasuko Onuki. “It takes a while to think about music.”
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With shows already booked, they continued to play as a two-piece (MxBx lite), but work on a new album came to a halt. The tsunami pummeled the country and ripped it to shreds. Something like that will make you contemplate your existence. I’d stop playing music, too.
“It took a while, and I still feel something is different before and after [the] earthquake,” said guitarist and noisemaker Ichirou Agata. “We played the [All Tomorrow's Parties] festival in Dec. 2012. It was curated by Shellac, and they invited us. And after the festival, we visited some sightseeing places in London like the British Museum, the Palace of Westminster, a prison. ... I forgot the name, and some fun areas in London. After that short tour, I felt I could concentrate [on] writing and recording music.”
Repercussions from the fallout are being felt tangentially around the world, but in Japan, its effects are palpable, real. Despite forecasted nuclear carnage, actual news seems to be kept under wraps there. “The media broadcasts about the plants,” said Onuki. “But I don't think they broadcast everything. I think it is still a very serious problem going on.”
“I have no idea what is going on there,” Agata said.
Fukushima was a man-made technological disaster merely awaiting the right tidal wave. The drums on fetch are also human-made, but differ from past incarnations of the band. Still working as a duo, the “2 do what 2 fetch” tour will not feature a live drummer.
Agata worked up some complex and organic-sounding programmed drumbeats for their latest. “We have been using a drum machine for writing songs and recording,” said Onuki. “We don't have to think about finding support members every time we tour or play shows. I sometimes imagine if we [had] a drummer with us now, but I am having fun playing as a two-piece lineup.”
“We started rehearsal playing live with a computer to see if it would work,” said Agata. “It took some time, but Yako and I feel like we got something very different and exciting. Live sets without a drummer or bass player made the band fun again for us—after playing about 1,300 shows as a four-piece.”
fetch sounds textural and features more electronic elements, in addition to programmed beats. Field recordings of frogs and breaks at the beach, theremin and heavily manipulated guitar sounds populate the work. “Yako likes theremin a lot, and she got an idea [of] doing songs without guitars. So we did Melt-Banana ‘lite,’ [in] which we only used white and pink noise, theremin and air synth with effects like fuzz or reverb,” Agata said. Synthy sounds from that live experimentation found their way onto the recorded material.
As always, Onuki’s barking vocals and often-nonsensical lyrics walk a perverse line between painful and playful. “I like songs which are cute,” Onuki said. “I guess it is like a dessert.” Her hyper-staccato delivery is used more as a musical device than for conveying meaning, but her chirpy voice lends a fun side to the noisy band.
The duo arrives in town after playing Austin’s four-day Fun Fun Fun Fest. They are touring with disharmonic SoCal surf-thrashers Retox, featuring former members of The Locust. Albuquerque’s own metal-eagle rawkers Tenderizor open the show. Melt-Banana is your dessert.
with Retox and Tenderizor
Monday, Nov. 11, 9:30pm
618 Central SW
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