Available on: Inoxia LP
The wait has been long, but increasingly popular Japanese noise-rock band Boris finally have a new album out. Sure, there have been singles, and a collaboration with The Cult frontman Ian Astbury, but the last proper Boris album was Smile, in early 2008. Though very good, it left us wondering where this eclectic trio would take us next. As is usually the case with Boris, there is no easy answer, even though we finally have their new album. It’s even called New Album. But is all as it seems?
See, Boris are releasing two new albums (in addition to their collaboration with Merzbow and Atsuo’s with Stephen O’Malley from sunn(O))). They are Heavy Rocks and Attention Please, which Sargent House will release next month. There’s actually already a Boris album called Heavy Rocks, released in 2002, but this is a new Boris album called Heavy Rocks. Where things start getting (more) confusing is that New Album, a Japan-only release, is a combination of songs from those two albums, with a few exclusive ones thrown in. Whether these will be exactly the same songs remains to be seen, considering past albums Pink and Smile differed in mix, tracklisting and song length between Japanese and western versions.
It’s probably worth clarifying something else about New Album at this point. Because this is a Japanese release, unless you’ve imported the CD or vinyl from Inoxia (like your trusty reviewer has), you’ve downloaded a leak of the album. These also differ, depending on whether the rip was of the CD or the LP, and your first impression of the album will be affected. As both releases of New Album hold the same songs, it won’t make a difference in the long run, but they begin very differently. For research purposes, I checked these leaks out, and the other thing to note is that the three different ones I heard must have been from a vinyl rip, as they had noticeable distortion and skipping. Given the ubiquity of lo-fi and noise-rock nowadays, these may not have seemed like flaws. Indeed, some ears may prefer them sounding like that. But it’s worth noting that’s not actually how the album sounds. And that someone, somewhere has a very shoddy USB turntable.
‘フレア’, aka ‘Flare’, is the first song on the record, and the song most listeners will encounter first. Opening with rave sirens that pulsate stereophonically, a lullaby melody takes over until the song kicks in. And it’s like some kind of futuristic emo song, Evangelion’s Chemical Romance. It is, by some margin, the catchiest opening song on a Boris album, and is a rush of energy and hooks all the way through. If you would like The Mars Volta if they removed all the messing about and progginess, this is the tune for you; it hits you with solos, synths, and sound effects, but nothing distracts from how big Atsuo’s chorus is. If you have the CD version, this will not be your first impression. Instead, you’ll have ‘Party Boy’, which I can only hope is an ode to Chris Pontius’ character on Jackass. This one rides in on a house beat (so far, so Party Boy), but instead of going vulgar, the song instead turns into a serene pop tune sung by axe woman Wata, and sounds for all the world like a great lost Cardigans single. In Japanese.
The second song on both versions is ‘希望 -Hope-’. It’s pure early ’90s Creation in its boy/girl vocals, synth-strings echoing the chorus melody and that driving rhythm providing a not-too-heavy propulsion. It does go more rawk for a few seconds, but it goes back to the dream-pop for the conclusion. ‘Black Original’ is next, and it brings hard electro to the table. Massive synthesised bass, semi-spoken vocal from Atsuo along with treated metal guitar lines… and they’ve become Nine Inch Nails? All in a day’s work for our favourite rock chameleons.
After that sonic overload, ‘Pardon?’ brings the tempo down. It’s a gorgeously still ballad only very slightly reminiscent of the quieter moments of Flood (2000). It’s incredibly gentle, and a fine example of how varied Boris are. It’s this very variety that rubs some people up the wrong way, and was described by Simon Reynolds as “really from outside the metal nuum, that gave the impression of ‘a little bit of ironic distance, or art-house detachment”. I can’t in good conscience disagree with that, and it seems as though Boris are flitting between different phases of idol worship (sludge rock originally – they named themselves after the first song on Melvins’ Bullhead, into Kyuss on Heavy Rocks, maybe even Godspeed at times). But when they do it this well, and they always seem to beef their influences up into a super- version of the originals, it’s all good. It could explain why none of their albums have clicked to the point of classic: perhaps they are a killer case of imitation rather than identification, but Boris do always end up sounding like Boris, which is testament to their sense of identity despite their variety.
‘黒っぽいギター’, or ‘Les Paul Custom ‘86’, is potentially the most interesting piece on here. Wata sings over pretty minimal house backing, while a string sample loops in the background, as does her own voice singing ‘echo’. ‘Spoon’ is another Attention Please tune, and sounds like it; proper MBV. ‘ジャクソンヘッド’ (‘Jackson Head’) is another electro delight, and one which lives on Heavy Rocks, despite not strictly being rock. But who’s arguing when we get a magic mix of industrial drums, ghosting tones, plenty of squelch and some pretty agit-sounding proclamation. ‘Tu,La La’, also from Heavy Rocks, is the best proper rock song on here, with its urgent drum fills, Boysetsfire guitar lines and a sumptuous orchestral sample underpinning it all. The semi epic, pretty anthemic, ‘Looprider’ ends things, and were Atsuo not singing in Japanese, you could swear they were from north west England. That it ends with the sirens that began ‘Flare’ is a lovely touch.
So, two of these songs will be on Heavy Rocks, and four on Attention Please, though we don’t know if these are the mixes or whether they will be re-worked. New Album, however you get hold of it, is not a sampler. It’s 45 minutes of the kind of high quality, eclectic rock we have come to expect from the band that made itself known in the west with Pink and Akuma No Uta. Musical magpies they may be, but Boris are near-guaranteed to bring brilliance, and there’s no drone or doom anywhere to be found.