Melt-Banana; 90 Day Men, Black Heart Procession: Although everyone is talking about Chicago these days, if you're looking for the best in American rock, a better starting point would be Tokyo, home of Melt-Banana, an act that exceeds the expectations of any devotee of noisy, grinding, chaotic, post-hardcore. Their newest record, Teeny Shiny, is a barely digestible, glorious lot. Playing their own approximation of American kids' post-dated approximation of punk, Melt-Banana succeeds in creating gutsier, better, and simply more American music than most recent American rock bands, underground or not. They've had help: Twice produced and some say, groomed, by Steve Albini, Melt-Banana has also worked with Jim O'Rourke and John Zorn. But not much: Melt-Banana wipes the slate clean, and the excitement it produces is the closest thing I can imagine hearing truly groundbreaking, revolutionary noise. Neither using their Japanese-ness as a gimmick nor forfeiting it for fake stateside-swagger, the band proves itself undoubtedly as the American rock band of the future.Based in Chicago, the 90 Day Men don't represent their town badly as far as evolution is concerned. Pointedly adept as musicians, noticeably meticulous in sound construction and undoubtedly a man's band (I was the only female in house at the end of the band's show in June at Rubber Gloves), 90 Day Men produce angular music lacking in the expected pretension. On the band's two releases from this summer, a split EP with San Diego's Gogogo Airheart, and a full length, [it (is)it] critical band, on Southern Records, strains of its arty neighbors are unmistakable, but the sound is much more indebted to Steve Albini's later records. With terse, minimal vocals, strong, looming bass, newly integrated piano and minimal, potent guitars and drums, 90 Day Men narrowly avoid life as Shellac-lite, thanks in part to their inability to be that stark. The result is a comfortable, enjoyable record despite itself.
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Live, both bands are, in the best sense, challenging to watch and enduringly rewarding. Devoid of the false bravado of head-bobbing and shoegazing, the two acts hit Rubber Gloves in succession this week. Without a doubt, the expectations of needless artiness will be relieved.
On the other hand, I had forgotten how duped I felt during the Black Heart Procession's August show until recently, at the "Experimental" night at our local film festival. Two of my roommates and I watched, for upwards of thirty minutes, as a projector flashed variations of extended prisms in primary colors to slow, synthesized music. At the twenty minute point, the surlier roommate looked at his watch, sighed, and summed up the experience, "I could have masturbated four times by now" and headed for the bathroom. The gimmicks of the Black Heart Procession--the horse heads, the reels, the strings, the saw--don't go over my head. There's just nothing interesting about the gimmicks, and nothing interesting about the music behind it.
90 Day Men and Black Heart Procession
Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios
Melt-Banana performs November 2 at Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios; Vaz opens.
The band formed in San Diego, a city that births experimentation with various successes: the charming nuttiness of Deerhoof, the genius chaos of the Locust, and the incessant bore of Tristeza. Members of Black Heart Procession were once in Three Mile Pilot, a band that regurgitated Tom Petty to hipsters. The Black Heart Procession is endlessly derivative as well, and so inept at it that the imitation doesn't even pay off. Practically a Giant Sand tribute band, it's to the band's favor that most of the kids in attendance at the Gypsy Tea Room show wouldn't know Backyard Barbecue Broadcast if it was forced upon them. Having wider tastes than their fanbase isn't exactly an advantage, as the audience nearly rushes the stage to get a better look at what the band is doing, which, by the way, is about as interesting as putting a cassette in a tape deck. I had mixed feelings about the band's records; a few months before, I wasn't completely nonplused by their three-song EP. Loopy, droning, sickly melodic, and mostly instrumental, I thought it might have enough of a kick to be likeable live.
In their third stint in these parts in the last four months, perhaps some of the mooks swooning over the pathetic theatrics have come to realization. In person, the bearded, ponytailed Black Heart Procession is transparent. Without the spooky, tinny effects added in recording, and with the added visual of pretentious kids in white belts, Black Heart Procession can't even carry off their own shtick. Show up late. Or, better yet, go see Melt-Banana instead.