It’s been a very strange year for Boris, and that’s seriously saying something. 2011 saw the long-running Japanese experimental rock trio put out a total of three full-length albums this year (four, if you count Klatter, their sixth co-release with Merzbow). A quick summary for those just arriving to the game: Heavy Rocks, named after their 2002 album of the same name, was their fastball, a straight-forward collection of, well, heavy rockers that saw them playing entertainingly, but somewhat disconcertingly safe. Attention Please was the curveball, an album that featured guitarist Wata singing on all of its tracks, and the band exploring poppier, quieter new directions. Now, at the tail end of the year, we have the bluntly titled New Album, which features several higher production quality versions of four Attention songs, two Heavy Rocks tracks, and exactly three songs it can call its own.
Despite those numbers, it’s the best of the bunch. In Japan, New Album was released through Tearbridge Records, an imprint of major label conglomorate Avex. This label support allowed them to link up with producer Shinobu Narita, who remixed and rearranged songs from the other two albums. An Auto-Tune-esque program called Vocaloid was also utilized. What results is Boris’ shining pop moment. While some would interpret that statement to mean their heft and grit has been removed, a more accurate statement would be to say that these songs have been strapped to an arsenal of high-powered rockets stuffed with fireworks and shot into the stratosphere to explode in glorious slow motion.
There is a much more clearly pronounced dream-pop and shoegaze influence present, but smartly, their raw power remains intact. “Spoon” hits like a glitter-covered wrecking ball here. “Hope,” still one of the finest slices of jangly melancholia to be released this year, is given additional icy charm with the addition of keyboards anchoring each of Wata’s lines. “Luna,” which originally appeared in America on an Adult Swim digital compilation sounding like nothing more than a demo, is finally done justice, Takeshi’s voice draped in reverb as he falls down the blastbeat spiral conjured by Atsuo. Then, there’s “Flare,” which is just about the closest Boris have ever come to writing a pop-punk song. It totally works though, as they tear into the straightforward chord progression with palpable enthusiasm, and an almost comical amount of heaviness, like being tackled by an overly exuberant St. Bernard.
In my review of Heavy Rocks, I argued that the release of that album at the same time as Attention Please was a heavy metal bone thrown to fans who may not find themselves drawn to the latter’s more exotic, softer sounds. In other words, a crisis of confidence. Now, the American release of New Album calls the existence of Attention Please even further into question, as the confident, fleshed out versions of the songs from that album will more than likely go down as the definitive versions. Hypothetical considerations of Boris’ canon aside, New Album remains the victory lap, a cap to yet another year of successful experimentation.