One from Column A, One from Column B
For a decade and a half, Japanese sludge/doom/grunge rock trio Boris have released a plethora of differently arranged discs, many containing one to five songs and clocking in at an hour or more. Permeating all are distorted bass riffs and tuned-down guitars, fronted by the smooth but urgent droning of vocalist Atuso, who also hammers out a drum sound that is at once low-fi and heavy, with the occasional straight-up thrash moment thrown in for good measure. In 2011, Boris seek to both respect and muddle that history.
Simultaneously released new albums Heavy Rocks and Attention Please are different from one another in many aspects. The former sounds like bite-sized Boris, with most songs landing between three and four minutes but still including all of the elements that make them identifiable. The latter features female guitarist Wata on lead vocals throughout and a sound that would fit better alongside My Bloody Valentine than The Melvins. These releases need to be regarded individually, forgetting that they are the same musicians.
Heavy Rocks shares its title with a 2002 Boris release, and even uses similar artwork (choosing blue over orange). With this new version, they redefine the direction of the band while staying true to their sound. First song “Riot Sugar,” with its snare snaps, low guitar, and Atuso’s renewed attention to melody, announces this intention. “Galaxians” brings a familiar dose of psychedelia and thrash while “Missing Pieces,” at 12 minutes, brings the length (along with the album’s loveliest moments). Atosu mixes English and Japanese so it’s difficult to figure out exactly what the songs are about, but when you’re following the driving beat of standout “Window Shopping” you don’t really care. This new Heavy Rocks is a fine introduction to what Boris are capable of and foreshadows what the band could be in the future.
The eponymous first song on Attention Please begins with a thumping but controlled kick drum and a nice mellow bass line, the polar opposite of the start of Heavy Rocks, and Wata’s soft singing is so breathy that you can smell what she had for breakfast. First single “Hope” is closer to noise-pop than to metal, its guitars and synthesizers drowning out the vocals. Elements of the more established evil-twin version of Boris are evident—the heavy stomp of “Party Boy,” the effects used in “See You Next Week”—but there are enough electronic and acoustic parts to make you want to pay attention and wonder what the future holds for this Boris.
Comparing these albums is difficult. They set out to achieve different ends, and while Attention Please is a more compelling listen, Heavy Rocks hits the bulls-eye with more regularity. Quality-wise, one wishes Boris could have taken the best five songs from each album to form one kick-ass collection, but mixing these songs would not have made sense. What’s clear is just how unclear the next step is for the band. Oddly enough, that was likely their purpose. Boris seem to have issued a demand: “Don’t tell us who we are.”