(Tearbridge Records; 2011)
By Chet Betz | 21 April 2011
There really is only one appropriate way to begin this review:
What. The. Fuck.
Question mark. Exclamation point.
Boris’ new album, called New Album, is the ultimate musical 180, the ultimate example of a band messing with your mind, the ultimate WTF as far as an extensively cohesive discography goes. These Japanese masters of droning metal space jams kick off their New Album with a siren that sounds an alarm inside the head of the listener (“what, a sound effect? But this is Boris. Did I play that Beyonce song by accident?”), a harbinger which is followed through on by a compressed anime-rock opening number to which I picture Son Goku jumping up in the air into a freeze frame with a background of streaking colors. Later on there’s a track (“Black Original”) that sounds like Lady Gaga.
In trying to piece together the story behind whatever the fuck is going on here, I face the cultural barrier of the fact that I can’t read Japanese and that no one in the Western Hemisphere seems to know what the deal is with this thing—hell, for about a month I thought the record was titled “Sparhawk” because that’s what kept coming up with all the torrents. But Asianfanatics.net does tell me that this is Boris’ first record for a major label in Japan, Tearbridge being a subsidiary of Avex (a name that certainly has a nice, big corporate ring to it). Ah, so, “selling out”? Is this what that plunge into commercial viability sounds like in Japanese? Because it still sounds kind of cool—not to mention downright schizophrenic. Throughout the course of genre-hopping from Sonic Adventure music (“Hope”) to vintage Reznor (a track which may or may not be called “Jackson Head”) to, finally, something that sounds vaguely like the Boris we know and love in the last two tracks, the musicianship is never less than studly and the music overall never less than endlessly fascinating. Sure, producer Shinobu Narita (if I’m gonna blame someone, why not blame the new producer?) piles on the effects to the point that I sometimes feel like my ears are hearing the audio equivalent of watching 2012 while tripping on ecstasy, but even that has its boons. Because as much as I love Boris, sometimes it’s a critic’s job to let a band know if they’ve gotten too comfortable in their wheelhouse. New Album leaves Boris’ wheelhouse behind on some other planet.
Smile (2008) was actually a pretty eclectic record for Boris, taking the softened and diversified aesthetic of Rainbow (2006) a step further, but those albums do nothing to prepare you for what waits in this New Album. This freak of a record is almost obscene in its flippant disregard for the core elements of such a well-defined thing as what Boris is supposed to sound like. It’s a slap in the face to Boris fans, for sure. Thing is, it’s no slap in the face to music fans, not unless you get off on slaps to the face—shit’s straight-up pleasurable. And for a band with such an established fanbase that is based on such an established sound, a record like this could be about selling out or it could be about having balls the size of dragon’s. Either way: “Pardon?” is a classic Boris slow-jam converted to synthesizers, scorching hot guitar lead saved for the last couple minutes; “Party Boy” is like Boris riffing on Paramore with a, what the fuck, off-key piano breakdown; and “Looprider” is a grade-A Boris finale melded with shit like Swervedriver and a Built-to-Spill-esque orchestration of delay pedals and gorgeous atmosphere.
So, in the end sum, New Album plays out like an immaculate parody and perhaps even a minor transcendence of all things alterna-rock. Perhaps its greatest accomplishment, though, beyond and yet through all the what-the-fuckery, is how it doesn’t just challenge “what Boris is supposed to like,” whatever form we want to hold the band to like it’s a signed agreement that they indulge our expectations—it obliterates that accepted practice of music fandom. It goes Kamehameha on that shit. Because, as crazy and over-polished and un-Boris as it is, New Album is still a new Boris album. And, apparently, that still means excellence.