Boris New Album

[Daymare, Tearbridge; 2011]

Styles: J-rock, J-pop, pop, rock

If grainy fansubs and powdered mochi were ever a part of your childhood, it’s going to be hard to talk about this record without reverting to preteen otaku geekspeak. For the initiated: listening to Boris’ New Album — not to be confused with any of their three other new albums — feels like watching a cracked-out AMV set to impossibly big-haired J-rock, a marble bottle of ramune in one hand and a breadstick colored Yan Yan pink in the other. For those in need of a translation: Japan’s longest standing vets of interminable drone and bloodcurdling hard rock have turned in a record that sounds like something by a band of Shinjuku popstars half their age.

New Album will indeed surprise most fans of the Tokyo trio, especially those who haven’t been paying attention since their last full-length, 2008’s Smile. But Boris have been dropping hints and experimenting toward this direction since that very record, especially on their Japanese Hard Rock Hits 7-inch series and Golden Dance Classics, their glitchy 2009 collaboration with 9dw. Like so many punks and wallflowers since Minutemen’s timid Project: Mersh, however, Boris’ flirtations with FM-friendly forms on those singles were too self-conscious to really click (or too sarcastic, perhaps — those titles inevitably sound like jokes next to ones like Dronevil and The Devil’s Song). But after getting their feet wet and having thoroughly tested their pop hypotheses, the Boris of New Album never hesitate and seldom falter, realizing the potential they’ve left untapped for years.

So the real shocker here isn’t the sugar-rush guitars, the theme song-sized hooks, the major label backing, or even the Michael Bay production tactics; it’s the quality of the end results. The opening “Flare” screams spiraling through the sky like it’s a Saturday morning on Fuji TV, ignited by Wata’s incendiary guitar leads, air drum-worthy torrents from Atsuo, and the debut of Takeshi as an unabashed and surprisingly commanding melody vocalist — like an end-of-episode plot twist that sets up the show’s next big story arc. From there, Wata croons on “Hope” like a young Kim Deal over the kind of Pixies sell-out riffs Rivers Cuomo kept penning for The Blue Album (Shinobu Narita’s J-pop production techniques enabling Boris to teleport between these riffs, rather than merely to transition), some jazz fan smuggles a harmolodic piano solo into the electro lounge of “Party Boy,” and some Lady Gaga minion does the same with a copy of The Fame for the NIN Fuck Room sounds of “Black Original.”

There’s another awesome anime triad on the other end of New Album (the dark and guitarless “Dark Guitar,” which sounds like it might sample “Heads Will Roll” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs; “Tu, La La,” the opener’s synth-symphonic cousin; and the happy-ending credits sequence of the sunny, shoegaze-thick “Looprider”), while the record’s middle run skews slightly more toward the band’s comfort zones, as if to remind the listener that Boris remain at the center of all these Gacktian makeovers and costume changes. “Pardon?” is, like Smile’s “You Were Holding an Umbrella” and cover of Pyg’s “Flower Sun Rain,” a successful update of Boris’ ballad mode (complete with telephone vocals, cinematic synth squiggles, and a hypnotic drum machine beat), and “Spoon” takes the band’s proven formula of wispy melodies layered over pummeling drums and guitars, and adds all kinds of rhythmic (even SFX-based) variables. “Jackson Head” is the record’s sole nonplus, with Takeshi’s processed punk yawp failing to find any footing in the frictionless rhythms beneath him; but as the track finds a bit of traction in the album’s most lacerating Wata licks (and an endearingly goofy, Nintendo 64 drum solo), it’s not exactly operating at a loss, either.

Unfortunately, New Album seems to be getting overshadowed — at least internationally — by the even newer Attention Please and Heavy Rocks, both of which feature alternate versions of songs found in better shape here. This is a shame not only because of this record’s excellence, but also for the other two’s demerits: the former sounds like every bit the half-cocked cash grab New Album transcends, while the latter tries and fails to reprise the hard rock glory of Boris’ 2002 album of the same. New Album’s relative obscurity is due in large part to the fact that it’s the only of the three to be released exclusively in Japan, and that it exists in two considerably different forms on separate labels and formats (the Daymare LP is the superior of the two, and the one reviewed here; the Tearbridge CD suffers from having “Party Boy” as its opener instead of “Flare,” and several tracks having been negligibly remixed).

In a way, though, it’s fitting that this album is limited by its lack of publicity and import-only price tag — that’s just the kind of isolationist secrecy that used to get the pre-BitTorrent weeaboos all hot and bothered, too. And what do you know? This one’s actually good enough to put up with the guy behind the counter trying to tell you it’s “better without subtitles.”

Links: Boris - Daymare, Tearbridge

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