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Boris

Noise

(Sargent House; US: 17 Jun 2014; UK: Import)

This Review Will Not Answer That Question

If you are here because you think I might have an answer to that question, keep looking. I have no clue. I have found myself discussing the matter in question with Japanese music critics, Norwegian musicians and even a prominent, young British historian. Nobody knows exactly what Boris—the Japanese experimental band—play or what genre it will find itself entangled with on its next release. Noise is but the latest installment in slightly more than 20 years and, believe it or not, it provides no formula to help us understand this gifted combo. But do we really care?


I don’t, personally. Although “Heavy Rain” is a slow, painful reminder of the fact that this is and remains a doom band… or a psychedelic group, depending how you see things. The tune takes its time to develop and flourish into something dangerously close to that celestial piece of music that is the band’s split with Sunn O))) from 2006. “The Sinking Belle (Blue Sheep)” echoes in the distance and one can’t help but feel the same sensual, mellifluous pace aiming at the center of a melancholic dream. But a band that has built its artistic course over unpredictability will not renounce the temptation of delving, once again, into the depth of its inspiration and strikes yet another chord with the apparently silly pop experiment that is “Taiyo No Baka”. Pointless, yes; childish, yes; absurd, indeed. But such a simple-minded tune serves as a trait d’union between the solemn and concise first half of the album and the trippy, less succinct second fraction.


A bit more than 25 minutes in, “Angel” enters the stage with a calm, cathartically horizontal piece. It spans over 18 minutes without attempting to redesign the musical wheel, but keeping the tension and the volume healthily high. It flows and maintains the bizarre continuity (there is a fragile notion of unity and constancy in Boris’ music too, that is for sure) that keeps together the first five numbers. Every single track is different but inherently analogous, because the minimum common denominator is a trio that manages to make itself recognizable, no matter the apparent genre of choice.


“Quicksilver” ushers us outside the comfort zone traced out by its predecessor by touching on the hardcore side of the musical spectrum, erupting in a nostalgic mention of the likes of Pennywise, early Strung Out and Gorilla Biscuits. This is pure naivety, but we grasp the meaning of it all by looking at the bigger picture, by considering the whole, and not the specific tenets. The structure, not the single elements. This prolific bunch has no boundaries, but there is an underlying awareness that it takes a strong dose of discipline to be so gloriously unmethodical. One has to recognise that the stoner drifts that embellish “Vanilla”, or the captivating melody driving “Ghost of a Romance” into shoegaze territories have both the same root and origins:  the cohesion instilled by Wata’s guitar work. We are taken for a ride for the whole duration of the record, and in doing so, whilst the genres keep on changing, his signature feedback and drones persist and offer an infallible grip on something stable and coherent.


How could a band that has come out with 19 albums (some of which are good; some of which are very good) in less than 22 years fail? It doesn’t; it won’t. Noise is probably Boris’ most accessible record to date, and the overall feeling is that it has, once again, managed to mould its inspiration while remaining quintessentially “Boris”. That same band one finds themselves talking about with music critics, musicians, cooks and historians. They don’t have a clue, but they can’t all be wrong.

Rating:

Alex Franquelli is a freelance journalist and writer. He focuses on Mongolia and North-East Asian politics and ethnomusicology. Find him on twitter @alexfranquelli


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