(Southern Lord; 2008)

By Chet Betz | 23 May 2008

So we’re all familiar with Boris by about now, right? Awesome Japanese rock band that hipsters have grown to love in the past few years and who will obliterate said hipsters’ faces at Pitchfork Fest this summer and so forth. Boris release a lot of albums—one or two a year, at least. Most of them range from pretty good to pretty unstoppable. They released one not too long ago, in fact. It is called Smile. It is a weird little record.

I say “little” when the thing borders on an hour and has big epic tracks full of loud drums and melodies the size of mountains and about forty guitar solos; I say “little” because with all of that I don’t know if there’s one actual whole song on the entire record. If a big fat monkey had all of its appendages trimmed down to stubs, it’d probably look relatively small. This is the US version of Smile. It is better than the Japanese version because it is funnier and cuter and sadder to look at. Songs are truncated or tethered with a short leash or injected with schizophrenia: diaphanous passages are laid to waste by explosions of noise; opener “Flower Sun Rain” doesn’t even end, it just cuts out and then a baby monitor buzzes in to announce the next track; “Laser Beam” suffers the same perfunctory fate; the nameless track is a quarter of an hour of Boris trapped in a maze of distortion and reverb.

As the band continually sweep the legs out from under their own ideas, they push beyond the subversion of headbanger music until they’ve started to claw away at the substance of their own subversion. And what lies beneath sounds like Hum. A very wasted and Japanese version of Hum. Don’t worry, the insanity’s still there; it’s just sloughed off the bottom and floated to the top. The drums of “My Neighbor Satan” are disconnected detritus from the chiming melody and sort of the precedent for the burning shambles of jam that cut through the track’s girth by just adding to it. Okay, so…yeah, worry: this kind of awesomeness you will never ever get used to. “Discombobulate” is this record’s word of the day, everyday. Oh: “ephemeral,” too.

And back to “weird.” I called this thing weird because, as I told my CMG peers after first hearing it, this is like a transition album where Boris fight ferociously against their transition to the softest possible version of themselves; so the core of Smile is a psychedelic creampuff where all the hot crazy shit piled on top inevitably creates an inverse volcano, a magma whirlpool that slowly sucks you in and burns you on the way down. It’s rather unpleasant even as it’s Boris at their most accessible, but by “accessible” I really just mean what happens when your cabin loses air pressure to the void. “Ka Re Ha Te Ta Sa Ki” sounds like it was recorded in the free fall, guitar lines and vocals suspended amidst wreckage tumbling out of the sky.

I don’t mean to sound nonplussed. The inherent awesomeness of Boris is essentially intact. Takeshi still broods. Wata still delicately noodles and shreds. Atsuo is still a dragon. Michio’s guest solos are still communicating with aliens. Boris still tie up their record with a closer that sprawls, gleams, and howls, but this time there’s two of them. And so there’s the crux of the matter: nothing in its right place. There is no right place. Which is easy to admire but difficult to love, since it’s hard to say “that’s my joint” to something so disjointed. What happens with Smile is that it becomes a good record for the sweet destruction of your mind. It is a honey-coated chisel and it will chip-chip away, leaving golden ooze to caulk the wounds. I think what I’m trying to say, then, is that what this record’s trying to say, maybe, is that you should try to smile—even when nothing makes sense, even when everything hurts. And that smile will be a weird little wonderful thing.