Monday, May 23, 2011

Album: Boris - Attention Please

Attention Please (Boris)
Album: Attention Please
Sargent House
Release date: May 24, 2011
Rating: ******* (8/10)

I think you'd be hard put to argue that Boris isn't one of the best bands on earth right now. And in 2011, it seems they are only surpassed in prolificacy, historically, by Bob Pollard and R. Stevie Moore, in terms of the sheer number of songs and albums one can possibly release in a year. On closer examination, you'll find a large number of songs here overlapping with other Boris releases - but any that have seen more than one release have been significantly reworked.

What makes this seventeenth LP unique in Boris's discography is that all lead vocals are sung by Wata, the band's female guitarist. If you've ever seen Wata play, you'll know she can shred like a motherfucker. Her singing is eerie and ethereal, making this Boris's most dreamy record to date (of the ones that I've heard, anyway - to be fair, I haven't listened to all seventeen).

Boris is a difficult band to explain. In one way, they wear their influences on their sleeve, but those influences are so diverse that the band never sounds like anyone else. And while a fair number of bands incorporate vastly different styles, few do it as seamlessly as this group. Sounds reminiscent of My Bloody Valentine or Brian Eno lock into doom metal drones. Industrial racket segues into a sort of demented folk music. Alt rock flare folds into chirping electronica. Nods to the wildman yelps of the Boredoms slip naturally into gaps between speed metal riffs. Attention Please is at once light and heavy, smooth and jagged, gentle and harsh. It's also - as all Boris albums are - simultaneously inviting and impenetrable, accessible on one level but entirely esoteric on another.

That said, Attention Please is more accessible and less esoteric than most Boris releases. That's not necessarily a good thing - this album just doesn't sound as original as most of the band's output. It's softer, more atmospheric and less metal than the last few LPs from the band. The restraint is interesting, especially on songs like the tense title track, with its pulsing house groove, creeping guitar textures and Wata's near-whisper. "Party Boy," with its thickly distorted guitar mixed low over another throbbing dance club beat is less immediately haunting, but also seems to boil just under the surface. Throughout the album, there seems to be a buried anxiety on the verge of exploding.

Attention Please suffers a little from the electronic aspects. Drummer Atsuo's playing is one of Boris's greatest strengths. His approach to drums is raw, animate, wild, vital in a way that is the antithesis of the mechanical beats on much of Attention Please. The mechanical beats have their own charm, and it's not the first time we've heard Boris dabble in electronics. In fact, they use these sort of robotic beats very well, creating a cold, industrial sense of alienation. But despite being effective, it just doesn't sound as fresh - other bands use these sorts of beats, but no other band has Atsuo behind an acoustic drumkit.

Between the foreboding electro ("Attention Please," "Party Boy," "Tokyo Wonder Land") and the hushed noisescapes ("See You Next Week," "You," "Hand In Hand") are some moments of pure pop. I mean, weird, scrambled pop that's juiced up and tripped out, but poppy rock'n'roll ragers nonetheless. "Spoon" is the obvious example, a soaring dream pop anthem, as lush and warm as anything the band has ever put out. In both this song and the similar "Hope" (the album's single), the guitar grows increasingly hard-edged as the song wears on and in the final minute, the band's metal influences seem to take over. But somehow it works, making sure the songs rock without weighing them down.

"Les Paul Custom '86" is an odder track, but hooky with a strange spluttering beat, a quirky and very Japanese (a la Boredoms, Shonen Knife) lead guitar line, and some strange coughing (again recalling the Boredoms). But there are warmer layers of sound here as well, something deeper and more solid than that would imply - it's a layer of low-register sound that prevents the song from drifting off as oddball songs are wont to do.

For a band with such high output, Boris do an exceptional job of keeping things fresh. This album isn't as good as their 2005 record Pink, but in many ways, it can be better to have an album that's not quite as good as, say, Pink, but that also doesn't sound exactly like Pink, or anything like Pink at all. This album is worth buying because you don't already have it. If you have one Boris album, you have one; the band is in a constant state of discovery and invention. That takes both courage and ingenuity and few bands could match Boris on either of those fronts.

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