The Boredoms Seadrum/House of Sun

[Warner Music Japan; 2004]

Styles: psychedelic punk, noise rock
Others: OOIOO, Grind Orchestra, Xinlisupreme

I have the new Boredoms CD in my hand. Their first 'official' album since '99's Vision Creation Newsun is resting in my anxious palm, its humble packaging staring me down, sneering: "HAH, you paid $30 for this shitty ass import!" And be warned, Seadrum/House of Sun does appear much like an imported bootleg. Its packaging is practically non existent: just a simple jewel case, the cover slip (with no information inside), and the CD. That's all we're going to get. Oh yeah, and the music. But before I get to a single note, I'm obligated to mull over all the excess baggage surrounding the Boredoms return. With bands like the Osaka quintet, whose fan base is considerably large and cultish, new material can never be viewed free of context. And while no band can truly escape its non-musical surroundings, the ones who are practically a denomination unto themselves really have it rough. I had so many great expectations as I started listening to "Seadrum" that in hindsight, I'm slightly ashamed. Ultimately, I'm amazed that those expectations came even close to being met. But oh, they did.

"Seadrum" begins with Yoshimi's unmistakable hum, improvising an abstract, folkish lullaby. I'm excited at first; rarely has Yoshimi's voice been given such prominence; but after over a minute of the same sparse recitative, my biggest fear starts to materialize: The fear that Seadrum/House of Sun will be nothing more than random, airy noise, in the same vein as Flower With No Color, last years collaboration between Yoshimi and Yuka Honda. Such aimlessness would at least explain the haphazard nature of the album's packaging. But no, I quickly have to remind myself that only a minute has passed. In the world of Boredoms, good things usually come to those who wait, and within five seconds my anxiety is quashed. Slowly but surely, a pulsating tribal beat starts to emerge from within the empty spaces. The vocals die out, and the drum circle jam begins. Various congas, tablas, and toms weave in and out of each other, creating a completely organic rising tension. Rarely have I heard drums sound so musical: They are enormous, bombarding you from multiple angles with assorted volumes and textures. Any Boredoms fan should have seen it coming from a mile away, but when the actual back beat hits, you're never quite prepared. A shower of sliding piano notes explode alongside the pummeling rhythm. The effect of the keys is as close to a harp as you can get without ripping the strings from the instrument's frame, and underneath, the beat never lets up; it just varies in intensity and timbre. Eye's trademark studio wizardry also pops in and out, refusing to halt the jam, but carefully manipulating the track's flow to create mini-crescendos wherever he sees fit. It should suffice to say that "Seadrum" contains some of the most blissful drumming ever recorded to tape, period. And I am wholly satisfied. As the first track comes to a close, I take a moment to pause. "No matter what comes next," I think to myself, "the Boredoms still kick ass." Yes, the Boredoms still kick ass. With my expectations fulfilled, I venture into "House of Sun."

Now, I'd love to just stop the review right here, ending on the best note possible. But alas, the album is only halfway through, and I'm not going beat around the bush. "House of Sun" doesn't quite live up to the expectation built after "Seadrum." Don't get me wrong, the song by no means suffers because of what the Boredoms are actually playing. It suffers because they let it last for 20 minutes with virtually no alteration. The entire second side of Seadrum/House of Sun is comprised of a sitar warbling along, possibly accompanied by a guitar, though I can't really tell. It's hard to discern exactly what instrument is doing what, as they blend together behind a sustained hum to create some heavily psychedelic ambiance. A similar formula was successful on Vision Creation Newsun, and it does work quite well on "House of Sun" for about 10 minutes. After that, you start to crave the primal madness of "Seadrum." Then it's over.

As "House of Sun" fades out, I am paralyzed with the realization that never before have I experienced such utter confusion under the solace of my headphones. At some point, most music fans find themselves crushed under their own expectations, and indeed, Seadrum/House of Sun had given me the proverbial blue balls. It was beguiling because I could not easily judge the sounds I was hearing; there was no simple balance. Really, how often do you find a band that can elicit such polarizing responses within a single disc? This is the Boredoms, and there is no easy way to approach what they do. They are a group that makes things like rating systems and 'similar artists' utterly obsolete. How do you stamp a number between one and five on a beast like Seadrum/House of Sun? Well, being a reviewer, I was quickly faced with that question and had to come up with a solution. The Boredoms receive a perfect score not because Seadrum/House of Sun is a 'perfect album,' but because they accomplish what most rock bands only dream of: the subtle transcendence of genre, form, and the music itself. If you are a fanatic, you should know exactly what I mean. Any album that can stir up so much deliberation while being so damn satisfying is a rare find. And after listening to Seadrum/House of Sun over and over again, all I'm left with is a simple idea confirmed: the Boredoms kick ass.

1. Seadrum
2. House of Sun

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