Who would have thought that a band’s fifteenth album could also be its most youthful one? Having worn many faces throughout its illustrious career, Boris is a band that is no stranger to change. With the band’s albums switching genres from noise (Absolutego) to drone (Flood) to sludge metal (Pink) and even stoner rock (Smile), this Japanese band is clearly not content with sticking to one sound. Yet you would imagine that after almost 20 years of playing together, the members would eventually get tired of evolving and make a predictable record. However if there’s one adjective that does not fit Boris, it’s predictable. Case in point: the band’s latest album, New Album (one of three records released by the band this year), which dives into the world of J-rock.
It seems like longtime fans of the band were highly skeptical of this new direction- which is an acceptable reaction. A band that has collaborated with artists such as Merzbow and Sunn O))), making a song as straightforwardly catchy as “Flare”? But that’s the beauty of it; it’s the last thing anyone expected from Boris. Just because the record falls under the J-rock category doesn’t mean that it is unimaginative. On the contrary, Boris tweaks the formula to make a fascinating mix of J-rock and dreampop.
Beginning with some lone electronics, “Party Boy” is the opener to a world of big hooks (you will try your best to sing along) and dark atmospheres. Although she regularly takes a backseat in the vocal department, it’s guitarist Wata who is placed front and center in New Album. Her smooth voice is ideal for this kind of music; it has the perfect amount of girlishness without becoming obnoxious.
The dreampop side shows its face for the first time in “Hope.” The repeated synth note has its hint of dreaminess, while Wata is given her chance to shine. The guitars, which have been quintessential in previous Boris releases, are still present. The solos continue to be skillful and powerful, reminding you that just because these songs are simpler, it doesn’t mean that they are devoid of talent.
One of the biggest surprises of the album is “Flare.” Bringing Takeshi as the lead vocalist and having him sound like a 20-year-old Japanese rock star, “Flare” is the furthest thing from Boris you could imagine. The tremendous hooks work perfectly with the challenging guitar work that lends itself to casual listeners.
Certain tracks on New Album sound as if someone took a J-Rock band and drowned them in a pool of My Bloody Valentine’s blissful fuzziness. In particular a song like “Spoon,” which includes the keyboard lines for which dreampop is known. The most fascinating aspect of this track has to be Wata’s voice: Angelic and calming but maintaining a feeling of strong passion. Takeshi also returns for a dreamier song in “Tu, La La.” Its lower quality recording, which puts the distorted guitars in the background, fits perfectly with the overall feeling of the record.
Other tracks have a more nightmarish feel to them. Takeshi’s vocal delivery in “Black Original” is haunting and dark, like a voice speaking from beyond the grave, the yin to Wata’s yang. The subtle sounds of “Les Paul Custom ‘86” blend perfectly with Wata’s chopped up vocals, like a heavenly dream gone terribly wrong.
Leave it to a band like Boris to reinvent themselves and keep their freshness so deep into their careers. Switching things up has proven to be the band’s specialty, yet they never do it without losing their proficiency. By letting nothing get in the way of their artistic goal Boris has made sure to be taken as serious artists, even when simplifying their music.