[24 April 2013]
Bands like Japan’s Boris pose a huge dilemma to record store owners that have to organize their albums by section. How exactly does the drone classic Amplifier Worship fit in the same aisle as the dream-pop of New Album? The easy solution is, of course, to make tags like “experimental” or “avant-garde,” a convenient way to gloss over the differences in artists who refuse to commit themselves to your “rock” and “pop” sections. On one hand, it’s exactly the right thing to do—anyone looking for Scott Walker’s pop-oriented material should be protected from picking up Bish Bosch or The Drift by happenstance—but at the same time, maybe it isn’t such a bad thing to make people have to walk around the store. At the very least, it would be a fitting representation of how bands often yank their audiences around from genre to genre. Some get left behind, sure, but for those willing to hop from the drone section to the pop section, the journey can be quite rewarding.
Such is the case with Boris, who for the entirety of its career has opted to always keep people guessing. In 2011 alone, the trio—made up of Takeshi, Atsuo, and Wata—released three LPs, each a take on a different facet of its ever-shifting style. Heavy Rocks, also the name of a 2002 album by Boris, riffed on stoner and doom. Attention Please delved with greater nuance into the realm of shoegaze, a sound the trio has always incorporated throughout their career in ways both subtle and obvious. And, perhaps most radically, there’s New Album, which involved a lot of playing on indie-pop reference points. It sounds like a Boris record, sure, but only in as far as no other band could have made something like it. Of those three releases, New Album sounds the least like Boris as traditionally understood. For the trio to take as many risks as they do while simultaneously pulling most of them off is admirable, but sometimes when gold is struck—as in the case of 2005’s masterful, distorted rock epic Pink—one wishes it would just pick one really good idea and stick with it for awhile.
The ultra-limited, vinyl-exclusive album Präparat—which is already sold out and fetching absurd prices on eBay—is not pure return to form to the drone of their early work or the sludgy heaviness of Pink. It is, however, a re-centering on the constant elements of the band’s evolutionary sonic. Some of these tracks, the towering “Method of Error” especially, are the sort of amp-rumbling guitar plodders that made these three famous to begin with. Others take the stoner doom of Pink and bring out a satisfyingly hefty crunch (“Bataille Suere”). Those who would begin their search for Boris in the metal section of a record shop would find much to love in Präparat, whose grey demeanor gets at the dark side of Boris that New Album to some degree strayed away from. The gloom of opener “December” even recalls the down-tempo, jazzy beats of Mogwai’s Come on Die Young.
One would be misled in thinking this is, in the strictest sense of the term, a “metal” record. Many of these compositions are some of the heaviest Boris has put out in some time. However, for every downtuned riff there’s a corresponding moment of texture and beauty. The shoegaze gem “Elegy” pairs a dreamy vocal mix with a lugubrious chord progression, a mix that’s at least twice as good as anything off of m b v. The trio even has some fun with shoegaze. The 43-second instrumental “Perforated Line” starts off like any Loveless-aping track one would expect, but right as it concludes it abruptly segues into a measure of electro-funk. “Perforated Line” is the best of the many interludes strung throughout this LP. Along with the piano waltz of “Castel in the Air” and the clouds of noise in “Evil Stack 3”, it both provides a nice breather moment and gives a glimpse into what other inner workings were going on in the production of Präparat. The only exception would be the uninteresting closer “Maeve”, which ends things rather anticlimactically.
These interludes, however, get at a curiosity in the construction of Präparat. At just over 38 minutes, this is far from lengthy; at least, nowhere near the investment needed to sink in to Boris’ classic works like Absolutego or Amplifier Worship. There’s really no need for anything like a break if one commits to listen to this all the way through. And while Präparat is a strong album for how cohesive and well-rounded it is in its organization, it also feels incomplete. “Method of Error” is so good it commands that there be another like it. The hilarious bit of funk at the end of “Perforated Line” makes one wonder if there were any other jokes that were left on the studio floor.
To answer why Boris might have reined itself in this way, one need look no further than the title of the LP itself. Präparat, German for “preparation,” hints at the fact that it may be wrong to view Boris’s career on an album-to-album basis. As whiplash-inducing as the trio’s genre exploration may be, it’s probably in the end better to view each record as a pit stop on a long drive rather than as a complete road journal. Even an essential like Amplifier Worship doesn’t tell the whole story of Boris; no single album probably could. 17 years and 18 studio recordings later, Wata, Takeshi, and Atsuo are still preparing, and the results are as engaging and forward-thinking as they’ve ever been.