Each of Boris’ latest full-lengths, Heavy Rocks and Attention Please, features a song called “Aileron.” The Heavy Rocks version is twelve minutes and change, a sprawling, ultra-distorted slow-burner, featuring the sort of low-end output that trembles your speakers. The “Aileron” on Attention Please, conversely, is finger-picked and sans vocals. The former is the album’s dénouement; the latter a melancholic interlude. Considering their dramatic differences, what makes both songs unequivocally Boris, worthy of the same Boris-granted name? More importantly, where’s the parallel between the simultaneously released albums? Or are they meant to stand in opposition to one another? In a way, yes, they are. But there’s also a constant, and, after many listens, it's clear that constant is heaviness. A broad term, maybe, but it's the most-fitting. Both albums are, in their own ways, heavy. Boris is a heavy band, and they make heavy music, unfailingly, every time. They can’t not make heavy music. Attention Please is case and point: the group’s foray into the danceable, into the pop-centric, into the melodious, is heavy through and through.
What is heavy? It’s certainly not just low-end, fuzz pedals, or bassist/guitarist Takeshi’s double-necked ax. It’s some combination of those things, sure, but there’s more to it. All of Boris’ albums are heavy, but by different routes. Releases like Amplifier Worship and Altar, the group’s monolithic collaboration with Sunn O))), favor a paced, meditative heaviness, built from the slowest, lowest chords. Pink is dirtier and faster, flirting with sludge and grunge, and, at points, a spaced-out, asteroid-belt brand of heavy. Heavy Rocks (the latest version—Boris released an album of the same name back in 2002) has moments of deep drone, balanced with Metallica-esque velocity. How, then, does Boris’ airy, beat-driven, pseudo-disco latest hold a candle?
It doesn’t, completely. Granted, Attention Please is supposed to be something of a departure from Boris of old, and in this way it is perhaps unfair to judge it against the merits of its predecessors. Then again, the most successful moments on the album are those that recall their tried and true sound. Boris shine on Attention Please when they manage a dark, creeping portentousness in spite of fancy ornamentation. The first track, “Attention Please,” is a great example: hushed and meandering, it achieves a sort of post-apocalyptic sexiness, a far cry from much of the band’s catalog, their signature cathartic crush. Guitarist Wata’s vocals—featured on every track herein—drift past hazy atmospherics and a bouncing bass line; overdriven guitars squall from an underwater distance. But despite the differences, it stands in league with canonical Boris because it’s heavy. It’s dark, it’s weighty, it hints at evil. “Tokyo Wonderland” is similarly powerful: muted, industrial rhythms and an earthy bass back wordless, staccato vocal arrangements, the kind prevalent in a cappella. It’s poppy, it’s quirky, but it’s also shrouded in forebodingness and unease. When the group achieves that sort of balance, Attention Please is close to perfect.
The album fails when there is too much dance, too much party. The album fails with a song like, not coincidentally, “Party Boy.” “Party Boy” is beat-heavy, crunchy, and, finally, abrasive. It features a blaring, in-your-face pulse that Boris would do well to stray from in the future. “Party Boy” is the sound of Boris achieving pop blandness, and losing their essential Boris-ness in the process. While Wata’s voice is front-and-center, it’s not enough to redeem this grade of obnoxiousness. Similarly cringe-worthy is “Les Paul Custom ’86,” another frantic, over-produced stab at danceable pop.
But aside from those slip-ups, Attention Please is a good collection. It doesn’t boast the fluidity of albums like Amplifier Worship or Flood, but that’s because it’s divided as many rock and pop albums are: into individual songs. Some are good, some are not. The better ones are those that stay grounded in a certain Boris aesthetic, but also leave room for exploration, and, more specifically, for Wata’s underappreciated vocal prowess. Closing track “Hand in Hand” does just that, and it’s the album’s strongest song for it. And even when the album doesn’t do just that, it’s OK: Like on “Hope” and “Spoon,” both driving, fuzzy, and catchy in ways that one would sooner expect from Yo La Tengo or Asobi Seksu. Wata’s melodies ride comfortably over the crash of guitars. But those moments that sound decidedly un-Boris—that sound like the band saying, "Look what we can do!"—succeed, ultimately, in causing the listener to miss the genuine article. Boris are skilled enough musicians to pull off many different sounds, but that doesn’t mean they necessarily should.
Over the course of their career, Boris has jumped from one rock subgenre to the next. They have tackled nearly everything imaginable, from noise, to shoegaze, to punk, to ...you get the point. As such, it has become difficult for the Japanese trio to really do anything "new" after nearly two decades together. But on Attention Please, they are doing just that as it marks the first time their guitarist, Wata, sings lead vocals across the entirety of the album.