“Smile” by Boris


Album: Smile
Artist: Boris

I’ll be honest. I am not a big J-music fan. In fact, I probably don’t have any music from the Asian continents at all, with the exception of Wing Sings and a handful of tracks off of the FLCL soundtrack. Something about J-music just never clicked with me, and has often made me question my sexuality as I am unable to point out which member of Dir En Grey is female. In case you were unaware, they’re all guys.

But along comes this band named Boris (or BORIS on the group’s more “normal” albums), a band from the land of Japan that tries to defy being labeled as any one type of band. The three members, Atsuo, Wata and Takeshi have woven many a complex musical piece together and take their fans by storm with each new release. My first exposure to them was the phenomenal album “Flood”, which was layered with beauty I hadn’t heard in a recording in a long time. I could feel the mist on my face as the first song began, I could hear the rumble of the oncoming wave and was eventually engulfed in sound, much like what I would imagine being underwater in a flood would be like. Following my listen of that, it came to my attention that they were doing a collaboration album with Sunn O))), which I reviewed some time ago. Long story short, it amazed me how completely different this band was compared to my usual exposure to modern music from the other side of the world. So it was a pleasant surprise to discover that they had yet another album on the way, titled “Smile”.

There are two versions of “Smile”, the original version released in Japan by Diwphalanx Records, and the more recent Southern Lord Records release here in the states. The two versions supposedly have a different tracklist, though it may just be because the names of the tracks being Japanese in the Japanese release (and I mean, how dare they?) and the American ones being in English. I also hear that the two versions strive for a different sound. For the sake of this review, we shall only be covering the American version, though I may in the future release a comparison of the two records.

To start off, the name on the front cover of the album is spelled BORIS, which if we follow the nomenclature rule that Boris has made, this is a sign that it will be a more traditional record. So into the first track, “Flower, Sun, Rain”, we are treated to a quick buildup of feedback, which then drops into a distorted but melodic piece. The guitar work is everywhere, with little licks echoing around in a haze. The singer sounds disconnected from the song, almost as if his voice is carrying over from one dimension to the next. The drumwork is light on the number of notes, but heavy on the impact. Eventually the veil covering the band is peeled back after a guitar solo, and the sounds all come together into one universe. During the final quarter, the song begins to build up again with more distorted guitar work eventually getting louder as it wails and crunches while the sparse but powerful drumbeat continues the same beat since when it had first come into the song. And just as it was there, it abruptly ends and the next song begins. It should be noted, that this is a cover song from a Japanese supergroup named Pyg.

The next track, “Buzz-In”, starts off with what is originally just noise from a low quality baby monitor, which then has the sound of a child speaking into it for a few moments before a massive guitar riff blazes in and the manic drumming enters. This track almost immediately made me feel like driving at incredibly fast speeds. Clocking in at 2:57, this is the shortest song on the album and I believe one of the shortest tracks Boris has ever done. The song keeps up with the loud guitars, buzzing bass work, and vocals that are yelled but are still overpowered by the instrumentation. The song ends with a bit of drone and a few final spoken words before stopping completely.

“Laser Beam” is the third track, and it starts off like a monster busting out of a cage. Searing guitar work and thunderous drumwork warp into distortion as the singer kicks in and the guitars crunch away. This song kind of has some Punk elements blended together with some Metal techniques. Halfway through the song the instruments become unsynchronized, and eventually a guitar drone moans on and then snaps back to the way the song came before it. But then in the last minute, the song suddenly becomes soft with a light and dreamy guitar with a light drum that eventually fades away into the background.

“Statement” comes in at the middle of the record, and so far the energy has not fallen away. The instrumentation starts off strong but then fades a bit to allow the vocals their time to shine. The song is very fuzzy, with a high pitched guitar solo popping up in between verses. The music video for the song can be viewed here.

We are then treated to “My Neighbor Satan”, which starts off heavy on a light soundscape with a guitar drone that pops up every now and then. Half way through the song the drums suddenly cut through the mix, and the song skyrockets into the fuzz rock which Boris seems to enjoy on this album. It then drops back off to the soundscape mode, allowing the user a slight amount of time to recover from the change they went through earlier. But this was only the calm before the storm, as the drums sound the alarm for a second time, only this time to be followed by silence. Then, out of the blue the song starts up again with the thick and heavy sound, only this time with a more frantic guitar.

“KA RE HA TE TA SA KI -No Ones Grieve”, starts off like a typical Sunn O))) song, with a massive drone lick, distorted and heavy like a call to the metal gods. Just as one is to assume that they will only hear that one note played over and over again, “Grieve” whips up in a flurry of spaz drumming and distorted rock. The singer sounds overcome with grief as he groans out his lyrics. The song doesn’t change much during the near 9 minute run time.

“You Were Holding an Umbrella” starts off with a very strange beat. A thin and clean guitar gently reveals itself. The vocals have less bass this time around, sounding kind of tinny. But the song doesn’t stay like this, as the guitars and drums turn the heat up providing the distortion sound we are familiar with by this point at the record. Now with the increased presence, the soundscape feels more full and tense. “Umbrella” repeats this quiet-loud pattern again. The whole song feels like it has some blues roots in the guitar work and the overall mood. The song ends with the vocals becoming a drone and the guitar work fading off. It fades directly into the next and final song.

Which is untitled, and features Sunn O))) member Stephen O’Malley. This song is a very long track compared to the rest of the album, at 15:28. I believe that this is a significantly long enough length for me to say that if you are really interested in hearing this song, you have probably already purchased the album by this point and that relieves me of having to recap the entire thing.

Overall, “Smile” brought a smile to my face more often than not. One thing many of you are surely asking yourself is “Why hasn’t he actually talked about the lyrical content?” and to those of you I will finally relieve you of that burning question. See, Boris is a Japanese band after all, so it would make perfect sense for the lyrics to be in their native tongue. It should also be noted I do not speak Japanese, so there is a massive language barrier between myself and the band, with the exception of the drummer who can apparently speak English rather well. And seeing as the only friend I have that speaks fluent Japanese is not available to help me out at this time, I have to deal with the obvious fact that I really have no clue what they are singing about. But I think of it like that scene from “The Shawshank Redemption” where Andy plays the Italian record over the jail’s speaker system and the sound is so beautiful that no one cared that they couldn’t understand what the words were. The music is powerful enough to subdue my worry that I don’t understand the words being sung. It’s hard to say “If you are a fan of x band, check this out” because while it borrows from bands like Melvins, Earth, and Sunn O))), it is not just one of those and in fact most of the time sounds nothing like them.

“Smile” is available now.

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Published in: on May 2, 2008 at 3:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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