Booming and Banging
Japan’s premier electronic rock duo Boom Boom Satellites combine lightning-fast drums, dance beats, gospel backing vocals, and bee-buzzing guitar distortion to create a unique sound, and they’ve managed to steer that sound in new and exciting directions over the past five years over three albums.
Last we heard from BBS, they were melting faces on 2005’s Full of Elevating Pleasures, and 2006’s ON finds the band inhabiting similar territory. Synths veer and gurgle, power chords ring and the drums – well, the drums are simply out of control, from album opener “Kick It Out” and its impossible-to-contain octopus drum fills to “She’s So High” and its bursting, John Bonham-sized tom hits. Beyond that, the band lends its singular sound to a variety of genres, including the Garbage-esque grunger “Pill,” the dance-y “Girl,” and the sing-along pop-rocker “Beat It” (no, not that “Beat It”). Lead singer Michiyuki Kawashima manages to pre-date the Twilight/True Blood craze with the balls-to-the-wall “I’m-a-vampire” rocker “9 Doors Empire.” And the duo saves the best for last with “Loaded,” Kawashima riding the album’s catchiest melody over a swarm of fuzzy synths.
2007’s Exposed, BBS’ third album in three years, finds the band tabling the gospel backing vocals and drum bombast for a more melodic approach, centered around bassist/programmer Masayuki Nakano’s keyboards. And boy, do those keyboards whirr –the spiraling orchestra of synths on “Entering Orbit” call to mind Dark Side of the Moon-era Pink Floyd. While the album doesn’t push new ground for the band so much, it still manages to surprise – the syncopated chorus on “Get Back in My House” is a refreshing change from the typical four-to-the-floor beat, and, had it been released 10 years prior, should have soundtracked a fight scene in “The Matrix.” And album highlights “Shut Up and Explode” and “Intergalactic” hit all the sweet spots that BBS fans have come to expect.
The real treat, however, is the band’s new LP To the Loveless, their first album of original material in two-and-a-half years. “I’m back!” screams Kawashima on the cinematic album opener “Back on my Feet” amidst clickety-clack drums before a welcome surprise of sweeping orchestral strings pop up out of nowhere. Gone are the burbling poppy keys of Exposed, replaced with vintage Nine Inch Nails distortion on “Lock Me Out.” In fact, To the Loveless feels like an album’s that’s been lived in for awhile – it’s more patient, more cinematic, with longer song lengths (the album stretches to 70 minutes) that never feel bloated. And while the duo loads the front end of the album with floor-shaking numbers, they choose Side Two to experiment. The group dispenses with its BPM-racing esthetic entirely for the surprise ballad “Stay,” while Radiohead-eque piano dots “All in a Day.” The best of both worlds comes through on “Vapour,” a delicate piano intro blending seamlessly into pop-punk drums, jagged synth lines and laser pings.
The past five years have seen Boom Boom Satellites graduate from a band that was all heart-and-feet-stomping to one with some maturity up its sleeve. It’s exciting to see a veteran band taking chances like To the Loveless while still harnessing the sound that made them so refreshing in the first place. Here’s hoping they stick to it – and that there won’t be two-and-a-half years ‘til the next one.