Melt-Banana
Bambi's Dilemma


4.0
excellent

Review

by JohnnyoftheWell CONTRIBUTOR (63 Reviews)
January 28th, 2019 | 14 replies


Release Date: 2007 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Melt-Banana are as Melt-Banana does

For the uninitiated, Melt-Banana are a Japanese grind/punk/noise outfit spearheaded by Yasuko Onuki, the squeakiest of all frontwomen, and Ichirou Agata, whose laser-beam guitar stylings make Jonny Greenwood seem like a pre-school kid making noises with a Gameboy Color. They’re a somewhat difficult band to review thanks to the fact that their name and album/song titles offer a far more concise and expressive insight into their sound than most writers could ever hope to achieve. This isn’t helped by the core truth behind Melt-Banana: they are either an utterly exciting adrenaline rush of a band or the most obnoxiously irritating music in the universe, depending on the listener. Critical distance can’t really add much to these attitudes beyond attesting to the craft invested in the music or citing the favour Melt-Banana have won from legendary figures such as John Peel and John Zorn. As a result, most reviews of their albums are very entertaining to read but amount to little more than a homage to what is essentially presented as an incredibly gettable in-joke.

Fortunately, Bambi’s Dilemma is quite a structurally and stylistically diverse album and can be broken down in writing a little more productively than past Melt-Banana excursions. The story of the music is that upon releasing what many consider the definitive Melt-Banana album, Cell-Scape, in 2003, the band expanded their rapid-fire noise freakouts into more conventionally structured songs with accessible production and stretched their sonic frontiers further with the live project Melt-Banana-Lite, which was an approximate re-rendering of their sound into a guitar-less format. More interestingly, the story of the title is that the band hit a deer by accident on tour in America, which they found rather disturbing but also presumably inspiring.

In any case, Bambi’s Dilemma takes some of the experimental sounds Melt-Banana-Lite and mixes them in with a bunch of songs that embrace the catchy, melodic side of Cell-Scape while also rejecting that album’s strong sense of cohesion and balance. It’s a brighter, more accessible album in many ways (not least production), but also structurally volatile in a way that’s baffling, entertaining and bizarrely effective.

To expand, on this album Melt-Banana come in four evenly-weighted (wait for it) flavours (ha), which are mixed together sometimes cohesively and sometimes jarringly. We’ll go through them in order of appearance, because I am not minded to impose any less superficial a scheme of order onto this music: first there’s the relatively straightforward punk numbers that don’t deviate too drastically from conventional hardcore besides the inevitable technicolour noise splatters. These songs are quirky and fun but also meatier and more direct than standard Melt-Banana fare - Plasma Gate Quest and Spider Snipe, for instance, use repetitive hooks and familiar punk chord progressions to great effect.

Next up, there’s what we might refer to as Pop-Banana tracks. There’s a lot of overlap between these and the punk tracks, but a bit of juicy role reversal between melody and aggression makes these among the most distinctive tracks on the album. Cracked Plaster Cast, Green-Eyed Devil and Crow’s Paint Brush (Color Repair) and Call of the Vague may not sound like pop songs by the standards of literally any other band, but they are as saccharine and accessible as anything you could hope to hear from Melt-Banana. These first two categories are more or less two sides of the same coin and are mixed together to great effect throughout the early sections of the album.

However, if you make it about a third of the way in, you’ll come across the first of the slower, experimental songs in Type: Ecco System. I say ‘songs’; there are two of them (Last Target On The Last Day being the other), but given that they cover a solid quarter of the album’s runtime, they’re pretty canonical. These are best described as ambient soundscapes with live electricity running through them; they’re pretty interesting in and of themselves but work particularly well as dramatic changes of pace in the album sequencing.

And then you have the ADHD brigade. The endgame run of songs are a glorious middle finger to everything suggested by the rest of this album and Cell-Scape about developed or dare I say ‘mature’ songwriting. It’s like Yasuko, Agata and co. got to the end of Crow’s Paint Brush, the poppiest song on the album, thought ‘fuck it’ and threw all their patience and refinement out the window. Two of these songs break the one-minute mark; none break two. They’re a total mess composed primarily of amelodic keyboard noise and blistering drumbeats but are elevated to absurd levels of entertainment by Yasuko’s strongest performance on the album. That is to say, she gets to unleash the full hyperactive scope of her delivery after a series of relatively restrained performances. This leads to predictably volatile results - for example, I still can’t tell whether Dog Song is the most irritating song ever or hysterically funny - but it certainly makes for a fun change of pace. Naturally, the listener isn’t allowed to get too comfortable in this new direction, with Last Target On the Last Day careening in to invert everything about this string of songs into a mind bending soundscape because of course it does. And that’s how the album comes to an explosive end, burning through whatever sustainability the album’s moderated first half built up in a spirited act of self-destruction.

Bambi’s Dilemma is not a perfect Melt-Banana album. The band’s efforts to refine their trademark energy and excitement in the first half slightly lack the chaos factor so key to their sound, and the bizarre second half feels like it’s compensating. This isn’t helped by tendency for the album’s most satisfying left turns to occur in the difference between songs, rather than within individual tracks; it pays off across a whole album perusal but makes each song feel a little simplistic compared to the dynamism of Cell-Scape’s tracks. Finally, the production is a little too clean; ’overpolished' feels like an odd word for these songs, but they definitely could have benefited from a slightly rougher edge.

On the other hand these criticisms, however valid, tread dangerously close to that who the hell cares territory endemic to Melt-Banana reviews. Bambi’s Dilemma is a tremendously entertaining listen that shows the band playing with their sound imperfectly, but more or less successfully. The sequencing is a masterclass, the catchier, more melodic sound is a blast even if it comes close to overstaying its welcome, and (most importantly) the band’s overwhelming sense of fun is as infectious as ever. This is articulated far more succinctly by the most aptly memorable moment on the album, which comes in Yasuko’s impromptu, squeaky exclamation of ‘shit!’ in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it lull forty seconds into penultimate noise-freakout Chain Keeper. It’s entirely gratuitous but at the same time somehow essential, and hey, that’s Melt-Banana for you.



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user ratings (155)
Chart.
3.7
great


Comments:Add a Comment 
JohnnyoftheWell
Contributing Reviewer
January 28th 2019


13015 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Best band ever

Digging: BUCK-TICK - Atom Miraiha No.9

SandwichBubble
January 28th 2019


9412 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Another Banana review, huzzah

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JohnnyoftheWell
Contributing Reviewer
January 28th 2019


13015 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Praise be to the Banana!

Kompys2000
January 28th 2019


2357 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Just picked this one up last week, fun stuff

Dewinged
Contributing Reviewer
January 28th 2019


15065 Comments


Nice, the band is crazy good.

That said, I haven't heard this one lol

Digging: Deafkids - Metaprogramao

deathschool
January 28th 2019


23524 Comments


Band fucking rules

Demon of the Fall
January 29th 2019


9796 Comments


Nice review, 'Pos'. I really like this band, yet I've only heard a handful of their releases. Cell Scape has been a favourite of mine for many years now. I should explore further.

Digging: Amia Venera Landscape - The Long Procession

Zig
January 29th 2019


1645 Comments


Do Charlie next.

Digging: Dir En Grey - Uroboros

JohnnyoftheWell
Contributing Reviewer
January 29th 2019


13015 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Y'all should check this if you haven't heard, it's cool stuff

And shit, Charlie doesn't have a review...need to jam that one some more but may well do

Voivod
Staff Reviewer
January 29th 2019


8229 Comments


Their latest album was/is such a blast.

butcherboy
January 29th 2019


9464 Comments


Pppppppos..

Demon of the Fall
January 29th 2019


9796 Comments


'Their latest album was/is such a blast.' (2)


SowingSeason
Moderator
January 29th 2019


29876 Comments


Great review man. Seriously, quality write-up and entertaining read...easy pos.
Minor edit: "Melt-Banana are a Japanese grind/punk/noise spearheaded by Yasuko Onuki"
*assuming you mean grind/punk/noise "band"/"outfit"

JohnnyoftheWell
Contributing Reviewer
January 29th 2019


13015 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Thanks so much man, cheers for reading!

And shit, of course I proofread once and missed something in the first line haha - fixed



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