Thursday, October 13, 2005

Sophisticated deconstruction or noisy incoherence?

Pressed for time and short on inspiration, I am pasting in something I wrote to a friend some time ago.

Hearing that a skinny Japanaman named Agata was as good a guitarist as well-known guitar "virtuosi" like Wes Boreland, Tom Morello, and Buckethead combined, I downloaded an album by a Japanese band he is a member of, named Melt Banana.

They are certainly unlike anything anybody around here listens to. "Noise rock" is a label I see attached to them. Their songs have no meaning that I can discern, and their titles and lyrics are confusing mishmashes of English phrases (the best I heard was "Chain-shot to have some fun" off the album Cell-Scape) cadged from a dictionary for suitability of sound to a Japanese ear, and then screamed by the tiny, crazy, singing chick. So even if the lyrics were deciphered they wouldn’t be intelligible; they merely play another part next to the bass, guitar and drums.

I normally can't abide songs with no meaning, but that opprobrium usually applies to songs that TRY to have meaning and clearly don't. These artists aren't cynical sell-outs foisting off pre-packaged musical pabulum designed to exploit the latest trends, they are very indie-hip, dare I say avant-garde artists. I don't think I've ever before applied the phrase "avant garde artist" to someone and meant it as a compliment.

So the music has no meaning, no function, but it has a surfeit of form. They aren't pathetic garage-band jam-session recorders. Their music is calculated, extremely so.

I am genuinely astounded that I enjoy this stuff as much as I do. The shapes and colors of the noise are basically divorced from any relevant meaning, image, or idea. It's simply fun to listen to.

It is so fast. The bass and drums set a tempo, I don't know, of 300 beats per minute? Five every second? It is something to hear.

The guitarist Agata is as good as described. Not knowing the difference between good guitar work and bad, I can merely reflect on how unlike a guitar are all the noises his instrument produces. And how consistent the iterations of very odd-sounding riffs are - I would have to imagine that the squeals and howls he has to do over and over are difficult to make with any amount of consistency.

With one or two exceptions, everyone I have played their songs for hated the experience. Give it a listen yourself, if you are brave enough. A fine example of Japanoise:

Enter and then click on “Eye and Ear.”

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