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Monday, May 30, 2011

Boris - Attention Please: B / Boris: Heavy Rocks: B

Boris albums have always been growers for me. I got into the Japanese metal band after doing a presentation about them in school. I got their 2006 album, Pink, thought it was pretty good and bought their 2008 album, Smile, when it came out. I thought Smile was excellent, but, after months and months of listening to it, I realized that it was more than just an excellent album, but a perfect blend of the band’s trademark drones, heavy riffing and pop leanings. It was upon that point that I appreciated Smile much more and boosted it from an A- in my mind to an A+; it would go on to claim the second place spot on my list of greatest albums of 2008. For some reason, the eclectic stylings of Boris have always taken longer to absorb than most.

At this point in my listening experience with Attention Please and Heavy Rocks, the two full-length albums that Boris have released simultaneously as a follow-up to Smile, I have been disappointed, but for different reasons. On one end, you have Attention Please, the group’s foray into lite-metal with explicit propensities for pop and even dance. It is the first Boris album to feature guitarist Wata singing exclusively and her coo greatly softens the brashness that Boris fans have come to expect. And then on the other end there’s Heavy Rocks, a veritable Boris greatest hits album, featuring all the same elements that made Smile great to an almost uncomfortable degree.

Let me first say that I do not dislike Attention Please because it goes in a significantly mainstream direction. Boris fans should have seen this coming, as songs like the “Statement” B-Side “Floor Shaker” and “8” from the group’s 2009 Japanese Heavy Rock Hits series, were tracks that showed the group developing into a more streamlined metal act. Those two tracks I mentioned happen to be fantastic. While neither have surmounted Smile’s drone odyssey, “You Were Holding an Umbrella”, as my favorite Boris song, both are some of the greatest metal songs of the 2000’s, the former sporting an infectious guitar lick and the latter featuring arguably the most cathartic guitar solo in an entire decade. People have been accusing Attention Please of being akin to J-Pop, which is absurd. If anything, it’s the next logical step for the group to take since releasing Smile.

I don’t like Attention Please because it’s boring. As a guitarist, Wata doesn’t get nearly enough credit for the amazing fretwork she has been laying down for fifteen years now, but as a singer, she’s quite anonymous. I imagine Boris called the album Attention Please because it was a pretty radical shift; the fact that it is so comparatively mellow should be enough to make people notice. Unfortunately, though, the novelty of this sedate sound fades as Attention Please goes on. Wata sings in a whisper, so it is logical that the album’s arrangements accommodate her tone. Its tracks are a lot more tempered and, by its second half, it opts for ambient drones that blend into a pointless blob. And then the album ends. While there are some moments of riffage and interesting musical concepts (the sexy pulsing bassline in the title track for one), Attention Please ultimately feels more like Boris diluted than a distinct creative shift. The album comes off as more lazy than adventurous.

My dislike of Heavy Rocks mostly stems from its existence. While listening to the album, it is clear that its purpose was to be a counterpoint to Attention Please, an album that’s Smile-like blend of the group’s disparate styles would satiate fans scratching their heads at Attention Please. It is the second Boris album called Heavy Rocks after all, as if to double down in trying to redeem the group’s metal cred by releasing an album that almost wants to redefine heavy music through this brazen repetition.

While this is an admirable sentiment that I would not normally object to, Heavy Rocks sounds far too much like a Smile rewrite. You’ve got your twelve-minute drone in “Aileron”, your punkish guitar romp in “GALAXIANS” and even your gut-wrenching ballad in “Missing Pieces”. While these tracks are great fun, the similarities to Heavy Rocks’s predecessor become quite stark and the album begins to feel more obligatory than anything else. “Jackson Head” is dumb fun for its repetition of its nonsensical title, “Riot Sugar” erupts into the crisp metal that has yielded some of Boris’s best songs and the breakneck chugs of “Czechoslovakia” sound like prime Anthrax, an approach to songwriting I have never quite heard from the group before. In the abstract, these are still good songs, but it is difficult to ignore the originality elephant in the room while listening to Heavy Rocks. As a result, it too feels like a diluted Boris album.

I’m not worried, though. Boris is such a consistently fabulous group that I could chalk these two up to transitional records and I’d probably be right. Smile was the seamless consolidation of a group’s work with a lot of creative ground to cover. While Attention Please and Heavy Rocks falter significantly, they observe the group going into directions that I wouldn’t find objectionable if they were performed well. It’s unfortunate that it took Boris four years to make Attention Please and Heavy Rocks, the longest time between Boris albums in the group’s career, but my faith in them remains strong. Very few metal bands have been willing to evolve and experiment quite like Boris has, so I think we can forgive them if they release some slipups along the way.


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