As anyone familiar with Japanese art-metal band Boris should know, surprises come as no surprise with them. Other bands might be content to find an identity and then refine it, but Boris makes a mockery of other groups’ attempts to define new albums as departures with every release. For instance, how many groups would issue a record with the exact same title as another they released nine years before? And then release it alongside an ice cold experiment in electronic pop?
The latter, Attention Please, finds guitarist Wata assuming lead vocal duties for the first time, and her frosty pipes imbue the record with a measure of consistency tying together the cyberpunk trip-hop of opener and title track “Attention Please” and the breakbeat fuzz and otherworldly loops of “Tokyo Wonder Land.” If you’re familiar with Boris from the cathartic and chthonic Pink or even the pierced-tongue-in-cheek metal collaging of Smile, you’ll be shocked to find that Attention Please has no interest in grabbing you by the lapels or taking your head off with buzzsaw distortion. Even the more aggressive tracks, like “Spoon” and “Hope” (which sounds eerily like a D’Arcy-led Smashing Pumpkins outtake circa Gish), are leavened by balanced production and airy textures. The successes here are modest ones, notably “Tokyo Wonder Land” and the laidback but digitally menacing “Les Paul Custom ’86,” while most of the record meanders through ambient territory carried off more interestingly by other bands.
No meandering for Heavy Rocks, though, which kicks off with the grinding “Riot Sugar.” And yes, that’s The Cult’s Ian Astbury moaning “TONIGHT!” in the background. Not content to merely bang their heads, though, Boris incorporate ghostly tremolo guitar and video-game-mimicking synths into their palette, crafting a mishmash of digital experimentation and old-fashioned rock-lock guitar. Despite this tremendous breadth of soundwork (or perhaps because of it), Heavy Rocks fails to cohere the way its 2002 predecessor did. “Window Shopping” sounds like an outtake, a four-minute song with a minute and half of ideas with “GALAXIANS” and “Jackson Head” failing to make an impact, even though they’re two of the heaviest tracks on the album. It lacks the bared teeth of the first Heavy Rocks, and there’s just nothing memorable about the insistent riffage here. Only “Aileron” truly impresses when the crushing weight of guitar and bass on full blast buries the delicate opening in a tidal wave at the 1:32 mark. That overwhelming physicality of sound is what Boris are lacking here, although it’s not clear whether they’ve steered away from it intentionally or accidentally. Since 2005’s superlative Pink, they’ve made more space for a variety of textures, but it’s not clear they know how to deploy them in a compelling way yet. On Pink, it felt like the ensemble were a hair’s breadth away from going completely off the rails, as if the whole clattering machine could explode at any moment. It made the record thrilling and breathless, sometimes terrifying and sometimes beautiful.
Boris are never less than interesting, but they’re at their primal, visceral best when they’re good in the way scratching a nagging itch is good: the sweet relief is always underlined by the feeling you’re also doing damage. On Heavy Rocks and Attention Please, Boris continue to surprise, but largely in a facile, directionless way. The clutch of good-to-great tracks spread across the two albums show off Boris’ restlessness, and there’s every hope that by following their instincts they’ll find a new vein to mine, even if the band never returns to the giddy, face melting of the original Heavy Rocks and Pink.
Note: These two albums were released simultaneously and are reviewed together here, however they are sold separately.Visit: Boris | Sargent House
Purchase: Insound | eMusic