BORIS: SMILE (2008)
1) Messeeji; 2) Buzz-In; 3) Hanate!; 4) Hana, Taiyou, Ame; 5) Tonari-no Sataan; 6) Kare Hateta Saki; 7) Kimi-wa Kasa-o Sashiteita; 8) Untitled.
As usual, there are about a million different versions of this album — Japanese, American, European, CD versions, vinyl versions, orange vinyl versions, yellow vinyl versions, limited edition gift-packed 8-track polka-dot versions with sugar on top, in short, just about anything possible to emphasize the creative freedom, psychedelic spirit, and unique individuality of the music and the artistic process behind it. As far as I understand, the American editions, distributed by the Southern Lord label, are significantly different in terms of tracks, running lengths, and mixes from the Japanese Diwphalanx editions. But guess what? I'm wasting enough time already on one version (Diwphalanx); I have no desire whatsoever to learn whether the Southern Lord version improves on it in any way, or, at least, I have a certain premonition that is much stronger than any such desire.
This is where Boris kinda sorta «go pop», in that they use drum machines, samples, and, most importantly, sing on every track — and while Wata's guitars are still very much recognizable, the focus is never so much on noise and drone as it is on melody, or, at least, painful attempts to create something by way of melody. The band members themselves called it their «sell-out album» and went on to tell everybody how it is supposed to be taken ironically, because, well, if you name one of your tracks ʽMy Neighbor Satanʼ and everybody starts thinking of it seriously, you might get in some trouble, at least once you set foot outside Japan, where cajoling around with demons is not looked upon with as much prejudice as in Christian territories.
Unfortunately, the «irony» is largely confined to the lyrics, which are in Japanese, and are largely devoted to in-jokes, such as describing the contents of an old live concert video by the Melvins (ʽBuzz-Inʼ). Outside of any specific context, Smile just sounds like an odd mix of styles (electro-pop, hardcore punk, industrial metal, atmospheric post-rock), all of which, in one way or other, had already been tasted by Boris before, and now they are back with this strange attempt to put it all together and make something comprehensive, cohesive, and ambitious.
The result is a meandering, directionless, and utterly useless mess that fails this particular reviewer's «bullshit test» on just about any count imaginable. The only track that makes any sense is ʽMessageʼ (ʽStatementʼ) that opens the album — its combination of a «huge typewriter»-type drum machine, a scary bassline, and ʽSympathy For The Devilʼ-style falsetto ooh-oohs sets up a tense anticipation for Wata's shrieking wah-wah leads, and even though the track is still spoiled with bad singing, it takes up seven genuinely nightmarish minutes and it could point the way to something even more nightmarish, but...
...this is where the mess starts for real. ʽBuzz-Inʼ is two and a half minutes of boring metalcore. ʽHanate!ʼ is four minutes of ear-destructive industrial metal, followed by one minute of boring acoustic psycho-folk. ʽFlower, Sun, Rainʼ is a «beautiful» ballad that seems to be an attempt to write something in the old San Francisco vein, with phased acoustic power chords and Big Brother & The Holding Company-style passionately ugly feedback solos — all of it sounding like some particularly stupid pastiche. ʽMy Neighbor Satanʼ tries to cross Sigur Rós vocals with noise and psychedelic rock, but the singer sounds like an American Idol loser and the music sounds like all the individual instrument parts were randomly pulled out from a samples library and superimposed over each other without any plan whatsoever. And then, as the tracks get longer and longer (culminating in the 20-minute untitled finale), the «post-rock adoration syndrome» gets wilder and wilder as they relocate from Japan to Iceland — only to find out that a tourist is still a tourist, and that Takeshi's chances at becoming Jónsi are slim at best.
Most importantly, it just seems to me much of the time that these guys have totally no idea of what it is that they do, what it is that they want, and what it is that they can. Quite possibly, that is the idea: get in the spirit (at least, formally) of styles and artists they like, and then just get carried away by the moment. But liking industrial music, or ambient-style post-rock, or hardcore punk, is not quite the same as understanding it, so that you can then add something of your own to it, and these guys, so it seems, understand nothing. This is not the way it's all supposed to be sung, or be played, or be combined together — it's like taking a coherent book and rearranging all the words so they no longer form grammatically correct, or at least stylistically engaging sentences. Be it intended as serious or ironic, an album like Smile ultimately has no meaning, and trying to «relate» to it is like trying to adapt to a useless genetic mutation. Thumbs down, of course.