Music

Boredoms: Seadrum/House of Sun

Stefan Braidwood

Japanese punk legends excel themselves with an intoxicatingly frenetic display of music as a beautifully unstoppable force of nature (and one other 20 minute track).


Boredoms

Seadrum/House of Sun

Label: Vice
US Release Date: 2005-05-10
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon affiliate
Amazon
iTunes
Have you no sense of rhythm?
-- From All About Lily Chou-Chou

Last Saturday night I was sitting in the auditorium of Bristol's miniature leftfield cinema and arts centre, The Cube, listening to ex-Third Eye Foundation member Matt Elliott perform some tracks from his new album, Drinking Songs (one of which appeared on The Wire's latest cover CD). With the aid of a few loop pedals at their feet, he and his performance partner (who will supply cello and/or drumming, at one point standing up in order to pummel his tiny drumset with manic concentration) will disembody themselves into the music being produced, their physical selves and instruments increasingly becoming the focus only of the eye as the ear is taken over by swathes of chanting, singing, and playing that crescendo with the guided power and complexity to match any orchestra. It was a superb gig -- especially the closing drum&bass epic, which was so fantastically deranged in its sonic assault that you felt the only way it could increase in force would be to pass the line of no return and travel backwards in time, annihilating itself into silence as it went. It was a gig that messed with your ideas of intimacy and human presence in music, not to mention stretching the musical moment strangely: what he's singing "now" is what he's been singing for the last five minutes as well as what he's singing now, and his fingers' movement traces only a skein across the musical landscape of the instant.

Shortly after Christmas last year I'm in the car with my family on the way to Freiburg, the weather that strange wintery overcast which is oppressively dull without allowing shadow. Having momentarily prevailed, in the squabble for control of the stereo, over my Mariah Carey-soliciting sister and my mother's Phil Collins album -- my father just drives stoically, bless the man -- I put on "Slit of Cloud" from Jaku, Japanese beat maestro DJ Krush's latest offering. Akira Sakata's traditional Buddhist chanting amuses my sister to no end, but it is his taking flight into bursts of free jazz on his saxophone that cause my mother to request the track be brought to an ignominious end. "But doesn't it make you feel... free?" I ask in annoyed bewilderment, having just noted the similarities in tonal dilation between archaic, ultra-ritualised singing and rebellious contemporary playing. "That's enough freedom for now," retorts my mother.

For almost 20 years, the much-revered, Japanese alt-everything indie scene pillars Boredoms have been demolishing their way through categorisation, consuming pure noise, punk, prog rock, tribal frenzy, industrial collage, and a little Hawaiian strumming before vomiting it all back up again into riotous and often riveting new forms. Their wilful disregard for formal genre, their crazed messiah of a frontman Eye Yamataka (formerly of genuinely scary, projectile-vomiting, noise-performance group Hanatarashi) and the intensity of their gigs place them in the same category of dangerous allure as the Pixies, whilst their irresistible percussive onslaught make Slipknot look like pussies. Only two drummers? Since 1998, when the band started to focus its sound into a kind of freaknik tribal krautrock, the Boredoms have had three -- one of whom, Yoshimi, was famously immortalised in title and lunacy by pop-punk oddballs The Flaming Lips as a robot-army-destroying saviour of mankind. Yoshimi also collaborated with a certain Kim Gordon in Free Kitten...

Ah, what the hell - they don't take themselves too seriously (debut single was 1986's "Anal by Anal"), they have at least as many side-projects as hard-to-find EPs in their discography, they're punk enough to be signed to Warner Brothers and not care, they're the cult band all your cult bands love. You get the idea.

Musically, Seadrum/House of Sun is two mammoth, 20-plus-minute tracks, one of which is utterly amazing and the other merely good. "Seadrum" was apparently recorded via the simple performance concept of spreading mics everywhere around (and indeed in) a stretch of beach, placing the drums on wooden boards, and then playing until the tide came in so far that the drums got wet. There is a shimmering phosphorescence about the track that suggests they commenced playing at dawn, though this may be entirely apocryphal. It's also difficult to tell which parts of the glistening whole have been simply left as recorded, and which were toyed with, overdubbed or replayed elsewhere, from the wordless singing -- which begins in silence with a beguiling air of carefree simplicity that, for some bizarre reason, make me thinks of black-and-white films from the '50s, only to ramp up in urgency if not in ugliness when the percussion cavalcade arrives -- to the ever-sparkling piano and holy roller waves of almost agonisingly exhilarating drumming. The piece surges along an a hypnotic frenzy without ever losing an entrancing glow of inner calm; the group stops dead at around the 12-minute mark before reconvening a few seconds later into romantic yet energised lounge jazz, which is followed by a stretch of beatless, repetitive Susumu Yokota-evoking motifs.

Elsewhere there's a brief stretch of quiet avant-jazz plinking and plonking, but what with the seamless dynamism involved in the shifts between tempos and approaches it's perhaps best to go for an overall impression, which might be this: a ride of valkyries (and I'm talking beautiful semi-divine warrior women here, not Wagnerian pomp in a triple D breastplate -- you can dress them as samurai and/or geishas if you want) charging through the surf to a score of heavenly live drum'n'bass, as performed by some terrifying sonic being with Kali's body, Kieran Hebden's brain, and the combined drumming skills of Steve Reid, David Grohl, and Guillermo E. Brown.

It really is that good.

I'm afraid you'll have to buy the damned thing to come up with a comparison for the piano playing, though, because quite frankly I'm stumped.

"House Of Sun", meanwhile, dilates warmly into the muggy golden depths of a sitar's belly and then stays there, droning narcotically back into itself, for the entire 20 minutes - nary a drumkit in sight. Mesmerising it may be, and proof of the Boredom's continued breadth of compositional ability it most certainly is, but in the presence of this year's most ecstatically liberating piece of music it stands accused of failing to make me play airdrums as cathartic release whilst jumping around the room like a monkey in the throws of religious transcendence, and hence falls short.

I'm giving "House Of The Sun" a 5 and "Seadrum" a 10, which together I'm going to stick at an 8 (quibblers at my averaging ability can go and jump between two objects, one of them travelling faster than light, and compare their math to the collision). If you've ever felt suffocated by the rigid length and structure of today's pop world, you have to hear "Seadrum" - as long as the Boredoms continue to defy their name in such spectacular style, freedom is in inexhaustible supply, and those robots will never stand a chance.

8

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image