Review Summary: Diverse Japanese sludge rockers Boris team up with guitar wiz Michio Kurihara for this unusually quiet and mellow psych album.
Boris are possibly my favorite act out of this whole "avantgarde doom metal" thing going on at the moment. These two guys and a girl from Japan release lots'n'lots of extremely diverse material and nearly each new release of theirs reveals a new facet of their sound or a different direction all together. You never know what exactly to expect from them, which makes 'em one of my favorite bands to review as well.
For this late 2006 release (not out yet in the Western hemisphere, download or import), called Rainbow, bassist/guitarist Takeshi, guitarist Wata and drummer Atsuo teamed up with another artist from the Japanese avant rock scene, namely guitarist Michio Kurihara of White Heaven/Ghost fame, a guy who happens to be one of the most talented guitarists of the Eastern hemisphere. Sounds thrilling, doesn't it? Sounds like some heavy-duty sludge rock with blazing guitar solos? Nope, sir, it's pretty far from that, actually. Instead, Boris do something they've never done before: They turn down the volume for nearly a whole album and make this thing a very idiosyncratic, mellow psych-rock record. And, best of all, it still sounds unmistakably like them!
Track 1, Rafflesia starts with a short intro of bass feedback and a short drum fill that leads directly into something that bears striking resemblance to the song Parting, from their Pink album. Droning, distorted bass (but relatively undermixed this time), slightly whiny, mellow vocal by bassist Takeshi and minimal, but accentuating drums, until Wata and Kurihara join in for and extended instrumental jam about 2 and a half minutes into the song. The concept of dual lead guitars is a very interesting one, especially when two extremely different guitarists are involved. Wata is responsible for the more low, earthy tones whereas Kurihara prefers a buzzy, treble-heavy amp setting. Hearing the two of them laying down some melodious leads is pure bliss. The song ends with a looped guitar note after about 5 minutes and 30 seconds.
The album continues with the title track. It flows neatly and quietly with the same bouncy krautrock groove as Naki Kyoku from the Borises' album Akuma No Uta, a very understated two-note guitar riff and some dreamy, gentle vocals by Wata (her second vocal track for the band). Hell, they should let the woman sing more! She's perfect for songs like this one, but then again, Boris haven't really done anything so quiet before (not even on Flood), so yeah. Some weird, gurgly noises in the background as well. Michio Kurihara joins the fun after 2 minutes and plays a solo over the whole thing (minus vocals). Now you're able to really hear his guitar for the first time (it was mangled with drones on track 1). I've never listened to a Ghost or White Heaven record, so this was my first exposure to him. And goddamn, that guy has a weird guitar sound. As I said earlier, it's really buzzy and trebly, but it has this ***ed-up, wrecked feel to it, like a malfunctioning vintage radio or something. It's not really "experimental noise" guitar playing though, he plays the solo on this track in a classic-rockish, bluesy style, but with that strange sound to it. Hell, just listen for yourself. After the solo, Rainbow ends just like it started.
The following track, Starship Narrator carries out the bluesy side of things even more. The rhythm, guitar work and vocal melody (Takeshi accompanied by another male voice, either Kurihara or drummer Atsuo) remind me a lot of early Queens Of The Stone Age or the first Desert Sessions album. After some time, a blazing, noisy guitar solo courtesy of Kurihara kicks in, one of album's only two real heavy moments. No, this guy really ain't your usual John Petrucci or Yngwie Malmsteen dude. I don't usually fall for this "wanky guitar virtuoso" ***, but his playing is absolutely mesmerizing. Takeshi's vocal return for the finale, Kurihara does some freaky noise on his guitar and that's the end of it
After a short, pleasant instrumental interlude called My Rain follows Shine, a creepy, dark-psych song. A foreboding picked acoustic guitar and minimal percussion in the background start it. Takeshi's lamenting vocals take a bit of the creepiness away, but give the whole thing a sad feel. I feel like crying (or cutting myself, Mr. emo kid) now. Kurihara's playing is really textural and undermixed and adds some nice ambience to it.
You Laughed Like A Water Mark (what the hell does that title mean, how does a watermark laugh?) is the longest track on the album, clocking in at a little over seven minutes. The track lengths are unusually short for a Boris recording (seven minutes is the shortest song on their Amplifier Worship album, for instance). Unfortunately, the song drags a bit. A relaxed groove that wouldn't sound out of place on a Can album, whiny vocals, two-note guitar riff by Wata wrecked, bluesy soloing by Kurihara, nothing we haven't heard on this album before.
Fuzzy Reactor features textural, soaring guitar work from both guitarists (some of it played backwards) as well as a wordless, quiet vocal (Wata?) and makes for a nice near-ambient track. Possibly most reminiscent of the sound Ash Ra Tempel had once they shortened their name to just Ashra.
Sweet No. 1 is my least favorite song on the album. It's the second "heavy moment" I talked about. Lotsa cool, high-energy soloing from Kurihara here, but nothing much else. Seriously, even though I Kurihara's playing, it needs to have at least some song context. And this song here has "fret wankery" written all over it. Two short "for the hell of it" vocal interludes by Takeshi are the only non-soloing stuff on here. Might be interesting for people who enjoy those "instrumental guitar albums", but not me.
...And, I Want is a mellow, instrumental outro, similar to the earlier My Rain. Y'know it's pleasant and all, but they coulda done better. An unsatisfying ending, for sure, but the rest is great, I assure you!
In conclusion, Rainbow is one of the most unusual albums Boris have released so far. It's not an epic milestone release or anything, but a really good addition to the collection of any fan of psychedelic music. The metalheads are advised to be a bit cautious though, since this is all but metal