Review Summary: Boris' noise: a harrowing test of patience or a hidden treasure?
Boris' reputation and portfolio have so many well-earned woah there
s that it's sometimes necessary to sugarcoat things to make them seem appealing to newcomers. Yes, their discography is labyrinthian, but it's hardly a tall order to stick to their relatively small pool of consensus classics before branching out. Yes, their style can sometimes
be described as capital-d drone metal, but their most famous outings as such are supported by engaging dynamics scarcely more challenging than that Explosions in the Sky album your milquetoast neighbour loved ten years ago. Yes, they have a closer working relationship with that dude Merzbow than many would consider healthy, but give "Death Valley" another spin and speeddial me the moment you notice anything suspect.
Pitches like this are hardly inaccurate, but they're all underpinned by the inference that while this
Boris is exciting and approachable, it'd be in everyone's best interest for you to avoid that
Boris for the time being. Maybe you're insecure in your attention span, maybe you're very much a quote-unquote lyrics person, maybe you still listen to music primarily for 'riffs' (ha) - whatever your inclination, chances are there's a Boris album out there that will make you question whether and why you could possibly derive enjoyment from it.
Let's talk about that
In 2015, off the back of their user-friendly misnomer Noise
Boris dropped a trio of albums that discarded all their melodic rock leanings and zeroed in on the most ascetic end of their spectrum. This is noise; not noise rock, not noisy metal, just noise
plain and simple. With one notable exception, it’s presented with minimal reference to any guitar-band framework and is kept company solely by the band’s well-honed drone chops. These albums were a mixed bag to say the least: Warpath
is fairly worthwhile, but more obsessed with plumbing the depths of your subwoofer than it is with sustaining an engaging ambiance, while Asia
is a grating test of patience that probably encapsulates the grimmest version of whatever the Pitchfork readerbase who pay attention to that site's Boris reviews imagines a normal album from this band would sound like. Urban Dance
is the best by a comfortable margin, maintaining a relentless focus on whichever configuration of noise and drone is under exploration at the time, but it also offers a distinct range of tracks, none of which get overly carried away in their respective forays.
This is immediately apparent in the opener “Un, Deux, Trois”. In some ways the track starts off in the deep end, kicking the door down with a barrage of noise that wastes no time in provoking discomfort with its stomach-clenching initial rhythm and harsh tones. However, clocking in at under five minutes and continually reinventing its onslaught, the track is just as much a bitesize snippet of things in store. Five minutes counting as bitesize may send warning bells for some, but for all Urban Dance
's relative inaccessibility, Boris are kind enough to provide an easy mode: the second track "Surrender" is a leisurely exercise in shoegazey stoner rock that could have come straight off Noise
, with a breezy appeal that can be enjoyed by anyone and their grandparents. The band keep their claws sheathed: Takeshi's vocal performance is as mellow as they come, drummer Atsuo's syncopated beat is uncharacteristically easygoing, and guitarist Wata confines herself to melodic arpeggios and atmospheric layerings. With this in mind, it should be a greater shock when the band let the arrangement dissipate and crack out noise interludes as a wry alternative to a chorus; somehow, these moments sit comfortably within the track's atmosphere. The noise in question isn't far removed from the what the following tracks explore more intensely, and so "Surrender” is like the band spreading their palms, gesturing at the less penetrable side of their craft from a safe distance, and saying something along the lines of hey, this is the role these sounds have played all along - reckon you can handle them on their own?
Newcomers to noise often ask themselves how to begin to tackle the style, and "Surrender" is as inviting an answer as any you’ll encounter, invoking the fourth movement of Feedbacker
in its interpolation of challenging moments within a more digestible wider piece.
Some people will be content to leave it there; I'm sure some copies of Urban Dance
find themselves in rotation exclusively for “Surrender”. However, I would view that track more as a warmup for the album's homerun combination of "Choreographer" and "Ending”. These two are one of the more impressive and certainly one of the most underrated pairings in Boris’ canon, a thoroughly convincing and uncompromisingly focused exhibition everything this album is about. “Choreographer” is a tense slowburner that ominously underscores a volatile noise track with droning guitars and the kind of ambience that would make David Lynch hold his breath; it’s monolateral yet unvaryingly gripping, making for one of Boris’ finest edge-of-your-seat moments. In contrast, “Endless” feels like a moment of release, a beautiful drone piece that delicately reiterates a single note for the best part of nine minutes while Atsuo slowly takes centre stage and delivers an expertly performed atmospheric drum showcase. The track is evocative enough to bring to mind a number of hyperbolic associations, yet evasive enough in its tone that all of them will feel misplaced: a rocket piercing the clouds in slow motion, a dead whale sinking to the ocean floor, a soul leaving the body, whatever. Call it what you want; it’s magical. Off the back of these two, closer "Game of Death" is a bit of an endurance test (cue: that's the point, darling
); it whips the album’s noise up to gale-force and lets things crackle and churn at varying intensities for eleven minutes. Sceptics will likely feel thoroughly burnt out well before the end; those onboard may well fancy a few minutes more.
That’s about the scope of things; as far as the unapologetically ‘difficult’ side of Boris goes, this is a real highlight; its attraction as such will vary dramatically from listener to listener. If your comfort zone with this band is inseparable from their relationship with guitar music, then all’s fair and fine; Urban Dance
represents a tiny region of whatever appeal can be consistently transferred from Boris album to Boris album. However, it makes for a immersive and rewarding listen within its chosen styles and may well catch anyone susceptible off guard. If Dronevil
's chugfests have become the dullest part of that album for you, if you're starting to question whether the final movement of Flood
is secretly the best, or if you’re a little uneasy with the level of polish Noise
and the Year of Boris albums brought into the picture, then Urban Dance
might just be essential listening.