There are many things that one expects when going into a release headed up by Boris and Merzbow, two of the most heralded and famous experimental names making music coming out of Japan. “Difficult”, sure. “Noisy”, absolutely. But…mellow?
Klatter, the new-but-old release from the ever difficult to pin down Boris and the sometimes too easy to pin down Merzbow was recorded in 2004, slated for release (but ultimately cancelled) in 2007, and is just now seeing the light of day in 2011. Two of the five tracks are re-recordings of songs that appeared on Boris’ 2003 album Akuma No Uta. One track is a song called “Jane”, which is a cover of a song by a German band called Jane. One track is a short atmospheric intro. And one track is the original work that gives this brief LP its name.
The point of this clinical run through Klatter is that there is no defining characteristic to the album, nor is there even any contemporary relevance to it. It is merely music by a band and artist that enjoy working with each other, enough so that they’ve done it five times before.
Still, it quickly becomes clear as one listens through Klatter just why exactly somebody thought Klatter needed to be heard, especially on the heels of the Merzbow-after-dark stylings of Merzbient. While Klatter contains little aside from the noodly “Intro” that could possibly be called ambient, it is also a long way from being an assault.
Much of the reason for this is Merzbow’s placement in the mix. The majority of Klatter puts the Merzbow half of this collaboration right in the back of the mix, background noise for the alternately droning and thrashing sounds coming from Boris. “Akuma No Uta”, a slightly scaled back version of the same track from Boris’s album of the same name, is certainly a little bit noisy, with the distortion at a maximum and Atsuo’s drums pounding away as if he was trying to break them. All the while, Merzbow’s signature static is floating over the top, sometimes changing itself up enough to stand out, but most of the time blending in with the guitars riffing away underneath. Nobody sullys the mix with vocals of any sort, and it’s actually cohesive enough to get someone who doesn’t mind a little chaos to tap their foot a little bit, but it seems a bit restrained for a collaboration between these players.
It never really gets any louder than “Akuma No Uta”, though, and for the rest of the disc, we hear a largely bass-driven groove in “Jane” (which eventually punks out into a surprisingly tame rock ‘n roll song), the drone-with-a-quick-beat repetition of the all-too-short “Klatter 1”, and the ever-changing “Naki Kyoku”, which sounds vaguely grunge for much of its length, as if aping the build of a Soundgarden jam session. All the while, Merzbow adds texture, but very little in the way of ear-piercing noise.
One wouldn’t expect an artist so often associated with pummelling his listeners with noise to take a backseat in any collaboration, but that’s Masami Akita’s role here. He is tasked with adding texture to the music, with enhancing the melodies, riffs, and beats rather than drowning them out. He does an incredibly competent job at doing just that, and despite the fact that Klatter comes off as a fairly low-key album for fans of either Boris or Merzbow, it is also a surprisingly rich one.
It would be folly to expect that Merzbow would make such restraint a recurring theme in his music, just as much as it would be folly to think that Boris is mellowing out as its members age. Still, their combined jaunt into the more widely palatable side of music turns out to be an interesting, engaging release.