Fetch, the latest release by Japanese noise rock spazzoids Melt-Banana, is an album meant to wake the spiritually dead. It is a relentless testament to the enduring power of dissonant, joyful noise. After straying into the territory of self-parody on their last album Bambi’s Dilemma, which featured too much in the way of guitar effects gimmickry, Fetch is a commanding restatement of purpose for Melt-Banana. It is their first album in six years after recording was delayed by the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster and their seventh album since their founding in 1993. Having trimmed down
to the duo of vocalist Yasuko Onuki and guitarist Ichirou Agata, the band has lost none of its ecstatic power. The rhythm section is held down by preprogrammed drums and bass, which lock step with Agata’s twirling guitar loops and heighten the frantic cyberpunk energy on Fetch. Onuki’s vocals are largely unintelligible, jubilant exhortations, recalling the vocal work of Willy Siegel from the underappreciated mid-2000s Baltimore band Ponytail. Agata’s guitars, meanwhile, are a shimmering dervish that fills the album with wall to wall sound that keeps each song’s constant zooming, adrenaline-pumping feel at the forefront.
“Candy Gun,” the album’s first song, opens tamely enough, with a skipping dial tone and field recorded waves, only to rip open and unravel with a deeply shimmering, shoegazing guitar riff. When the drums kick in and the song starts to fly, you can hear the influence of fellow Japanoise musicians like Merzbow and Otomo Yoshihide in the dissonant synth swipes. “Infection Defective,” another one of the album’s high energy highlights, starts with some distorted shredding slowly pitching itself upwards, as Agata commandingly revs the engine of his effects board. When he’s reached his peak and the rhythm section falls in, Onuki’s vocals match him with frenzied, anthemic force. That impulse towards the anthemic makes this album stand out in the band’s catalog while reminding the listener that, despite all the pitch bending and wall-of-sound layering, Melt-Banana is first and foremost a punk rock band. Nowhere is that more apparent than on the album’s closer, “Zero,” which injects some pop punk melancholy into the album’s typical ball of attention-deficit energy.
Over the course of Melt-Banana’s career, their style has fluctuated, bouncing between noise rock, pure punk, and even pop elements, but it has always been singularly and completely Melt-Banana. Their brand of noise has always been uniquely hard to ignore, and there’s certainly zero signs of that changing any time soon. “The Hive” shows clear signs of the band’s growth, as they combine their familiar guitars and pacing with looped electronic tones, vocal modulation, and glitched notes to make something that is at once familiar and different. After twenty years of performing, Fetch makes it clear that Melt-Banana hasn’t lost a single ounce of the energy that they originally exploded onto the scene with so many years ago. In order to match that energy, I would recommend coming to this album highly caffeinated. Otherwise, quite frankly, it just might move too fast for you.
Sam Segal & Trevor Spriggs