Over the span of two decades, Japanese noise rockers Melt-Banana have churned out music that bristles with energy and creativity. Melt-Banana takes bizarre, atonal riffs, adds in some heavy inspiration from the freewheeling absurdity of the Boredoms, speeds it up a lot, and tops it off with the high-pitched yelling (and sometimes singing) of energetic frontwoman Yasuko Onuki. It really is a treat to the ears. The band is prolific, with nine full-lengths, and more than twice that many EPs, splits and singles. Put together in 2005, 13 Hedgehogs is a compilation of their singles from 1994 to 1999. It’s a fabulous CD for people who are trying to get into the band but don’t know where to start.
The first cut is the Hedgehog 7-inch single, which is a mix of spastic songs that clock in at less than 30 seconds and more ‘straightforward’ songs that last around a minute or two. It’s pretty disorienting at first, but it serves as a pretty good introduction to the whole CD. The second ‘hedgehog’ is their side from a split they did with feminist noise-rockers God Is My Co-Pilot. These three tracks showcase the same intensity, catchiness and brevity on Hedgehog. Then, it’s on to the 7-inch single It’s in the Pillcase, which is one of the catchier, more straightforward entries, consisting of three punk-oriented ragers. The title track is a personal favorite, but with this kind of music, it’s pretty much up to interpretation.
Then, you are treated to their split material with insano-grindcore band Discordance Axis. The album begins with a deceptively peaceful intro of bells, but then breaks into some of the rawest, most violent material on the compilation. The production is lo-fi, even for a Melt-Banana album, and Yasuko O. sounds angrier than on previous ‘hedgehogs.’ However, the track “No One Wants the Next One” is one of the first to have crooning on it. Also of note (for all you Discordance Axis lovers out there) is their cover of Discordance Axis’ “One Dimensional”. The whole affair closes out with the sound of bells. The fifth ‘hedgehog’ is a split with Pencilneck, and consists of two songs being played live. These songs are a lot tighter than you would expect from such a young and uncanny band, but it’s a testament to the technical talent possessed by all the members in the band.
Next up is their split material with Target Shoppers, which is perhaps the zaniest material on the compilation. From the cartoon-y sounds on “Making Fuss Fuss Fuss” to the bizarre shrieking on “Turtle vs. Bunny (Who Won?)”, the whole thing is disorienting, even on a Melt-Banana album. And don’t even get me started on the closing ambient track, “Bird-Like Monkey in Cave, Singing in Drops”! Too weird! The seventh ‘hedgehog’ is their split material with electronic band Stilluppsteypa. This 10-inch single is largest chunk of the compilation, spanning 14 songs. There is a good mix of noisier and almost melodic songs on this one, and there are more midpaced parts than on previous albums.
After that, it’s the untitled Piano One single. True to its name, the single’s two songs heavily incorporate pianos into the mix. It provides an interesting complement to the bizarre, cartoonish Melt-Banana sound, and these two tracks really stand out on the CD. The ninth cut is their 7-inch split with Plainfield, which is only two short tracks. The first is a Boredoms-esque intro to the second song “Aquatic Bee,” which is a catchy, punky, fun song. The tenth ‘hedgehog’ is a 7-inch single titled Eleventh, which showcases the band at its noisiest, with one track, “Cough, Coughed, Coughing,” consisting of one 55-second long shriek.
The 11th cut on the compilation is the track they put on their split with the noisemongers in Xerobot. This song is bipolar, constantly alternating between pop parts and a lightning-fast maelstrom. Next is the song they put on their split with breakcore band Killout Trash. This song is one of the longest, clocking in at four minutes, and the last minute and a half consists of a flight attendant talking over an intercom. 13 Hedgehogs closes out the 7-inch single with Dead Spex, which showcases Melt-Banana rocking harder than before. These four songs, all spanning around a minute, showcase the band realizing the potential displayed on the other 12 ‘hedgehogs.’ And then, it’s over.
13 Hedgehogs is a fitting name for Melt-Banana’s singles compilation, because Melt-Banana’s music is like a hedgehog. There are certainly thorns on this beast; the noisy, spastic music Melt-Banana plays not going to be an easy listen for many people. However, there is definitely an endearing, almost ‘cute’ quality to the zany, cartoonish music on the disc. I wouldn’t recommend listening to this all in one sitting, but if you’re a big fan of modern noise rock, have an interest in Melt-Banana, or just want some schizoid-ass music you can go nuts to, 13 Hedgehogs is a fantastic place to start.