BORIS: HEAVY ROCKS (2011)
1) Riot Sugar; 2) Leak (Truth, yesnoyesnoyes); 3) GALAXIANS; 4) Jackson Head; 5) Missing Pieces; 6) Key; 7) Windows Shopping; 8) Tu, La La; 9) Aileron; 10) Czechoslovakia.
How many bands do you know that have released two different albums with exactly the same title, and that title was not the band's name? I honestly cannot think of a single one at present, though I am almost sure that it's just my mind playing a trick on me or something. But if not, then Boris have this dubious honor of revolutionizing the musical world yet another time — and giving their already brain-ravaged fans an even harder time. Even the album covers, by the way, are completely the same, except for the color: the first one was orange and this one is purple. Then again, Boris are well known for often releasing the exact same record with different sleeve colors, so essentially they're just trying to fuck us up here. Completely.
The largest irony of all, though, is that this new Heavy Rocks is... pretty dang good! In fact, it is really the closest thing to a «good» non-noise Boris album since... uh... scrolling... scrolling... scrolling... oh wait, we are already in the Boo Radleys... back... back... okay, never mind. This is a pretty dang good Boris album, period.
So, apparently, at the same time that they were working on their ridiculous «J-Pop» homage, they were also producing a much more hard rock/metal-oriented album, with shades of punk, industrial, and psychedelia, that ended up sounding more fun, more aggressive, more catchy, and making much better use of the band's biggest strength (guitar tones). It is still not possible to say if they are being serious, ironic, or clueless, but at least they are definitely being less irritating, and at no times does this record begin to seem openly «stupid», which was my largest beef with New Album and its pervy vibes.
ʽRiot Sugarʼ opens the record with a bona fide Metallica riff, immediately followed by the shrill, multi-tracked, echoey wail of the lead guitar that is more reminiscent of old-school psychedelics, and then followed by vocals that do not openly suck — maybe because they are also echo-laden and multi-tracked, or maybe because they actually belong to Ian Astbury of The Cult, guest starring on this particular track. There are quite a few other guest vocalists on the album, by the way, including Aaron Turner of Isis and some Japanese people I am not familiar with, and this in itself is a good sign, perhaps indicative of the band actually willing to go out on a limb and produce something good in all respects... for a change.
The album is refreshingly diverse, too. ʽLeakʼ combines psychedelic falsetto choruses with dissonant lead guitar parts that remind you of the old Frisco scene, although the main body of the song is more reminiscent of some early New Wave act like Television. ʽGALAXIANSʼ gallops ahead with the speed and energy of a professional hardcore act, but the guitar tones and accompanying «revving-up» electronic noises give it more of an industrial feel. The alternate version of ʽJackson Headʼ, with guitar instead of electronica, is a great reminder to me why I so much prefer guitar-based rock to electronica when we are talking energetic/aggressive music — Wata's choppy guitar chords, backed with Atsuo's kick-heavy percussion, give the song a sharp edge that it sorely lacked in its techno mix. The difference between the two versions of ʽTu, La Laʼ is not as easily noticeable, but I also prefer this more guitar-oriented rendition to the synthesized strings of New Album, which made it kinda corny.
The feelings get more mixed when we get around to the two extended, atmospheric «post-rock» workouts. ʽMissing Piecesʼ seems like an attempt to outdo Godspeed You! Black Emperor, gradually building up from a mere trickle into an ocean of sound, with legions of trilling guitars and torrents of feedback eventually bursting through the dam; ʽAileronʼ sounds like some wailing sinner, calling to you out of the depths of hell while Wata's fried power chords and high-pitched guitar howls imitate underground volcanic activity. But both tracks go on for much too long and must have taken the band much less time to prepare than a typical GY!BE mini-symphony — as I already said, in «expanded» mode Boris have to be minimalist Nazis: anything more than «pure» feedback blasts and you begin to sense some deficiencies in their music-making.
Still, whether by accident or not, on the whole these «purple» Heavy Rocks nail it just right. There is no deep meaning to this album, no special social value or sharp emotional resonance — but whenever possible, it kicks ass, and it manages to do so without sounding too ridiculous, too overstated, or too overtly «shocking». I am genuinely surprised at how decent this one turned out: easily deserving of a thumbs up and recommendable to the community at large without any special reservations.