So I guess I can die now. Last night i had the pleasure of seeing Boris at Rubber Gloves in Denton, TX. By the time I arrived (9 PM) I was already buzzing a bit from a few vodka shots and found an epic line that suggested the 'Gloves would be over-crammed like sardines with heavy metal scum this night. This was no surprise of course. Boris is a pretty popular band in the underground these days (possibly aiming for MTV? I don't know; haven't watched in years). The Glove's 200 plus capacity ain't exactly kind to bigger draws, and this was the fabled Japanese trio's first visit to North Texas. Why was Boris even playing a place it could easily fill twice over? Well read this interesting little Pitchfork article and you might get a clue. It's a humdinger... very Texas. Very redneck. And there's more to that story too: I had the privilege of meeting and conversing with the subject of said article, Josh Baish, at a High on Fire concert just one day before the calamity took place, and it was strange. I can't go into detail here, but ask me sometime in person and I'll fill you in.
As for Boris, I suppose they have become a bit of a commodity these days. I've fallen for it; a lot of us heavypsychmetalniks have fallen for it. Their earliest recordings reveal a band non concerned with any kind of mainstream appeal. The AbsoluteGo, Amplifier Worship and Flood CDs are highly revered 'round these parts, and any heavy psych fan should at least be aware of their existence. But more recent endeavors have revealed that within the corpus of this lumbering behemoth lies the heart of a genuine songwriter. I don't know who is responsible for what as far as songwriting duties go, but the turn towards actual songcraft--often blissful and transcendent--is welcome to these ears. This stuff is without question more accessible, but its presentation still proves that these guys and gal are one of the heaviest bands on the planet, and their brand of pop rocks pretty dang hard.
After making my way inside, I marvel at opener Clouds' t-shirt and album designs. Wicked shit--if their music is even half as compelling, I'm down. And it isn't bad at all. Clouds come off like the Husker Du of sludge doom. Their tempos are upbeat, their riffs crunchy and thick. I almost buy an album.
Around this time it finally becomes crystal clear that one of my favorite guitarists in the world is playing as a fourth member of Boris, guitar god Michio Kurihara of White Heaven, The Stars, Marble Sheep, Ghost, etc. I'm a big fan of the collaboration album that came out on Drag City last year and swore to myself at the time that I'd see this quartet version without ever really making it happen. I figured Kuri would be kicking it back in Tokyo right about now, sipping sake and enjoying the good life, but nope. Here he was, my man and my band. Yeah, I'm a fan boy. Deal with it.
By the time the second band--a new Hydrahead signing called Torche--finish their set (which i better than the Myspace clips I'd heard: epic proggy sludge rock) I'm feeling good. Any alcoholic malaise has long since subsided, and the prospect of seeing the Master drop some serious fuzz bombs has me giddy. I tell a few folks in the crowd they're in for a treat, not sure if any of them actually care what my jerk ass has to say. As for the gig, it's heavy. It's loud. Boris is one of those bands that knows how to operate in a few different volume modes. Quiet/sweet, faster/building right on up to throbbing tectonic shift. My hopes are high, but I'm also prepared to compromise my expectations since Boris has been around a good 15 years now and enjoyed its share of evolutions.
By the way...
The brand new Smile (Southern Lord) is recommended by any measure. I have no doubt some die-hards will scream blasphemy, but I see it a little differently. First off: Smile is produced by You Ishihara, another one of those living legends in the Japanese psych scene via his solo work, White Heaven and The Stars. Secondly, Smile is fairly cohesive piece with slow heavy ballads, memorable hooks, shoegazing drifts, burly punk explosions and 15 min noise freakouts all present and accounted for, along with some fun embellishments--the sound of a needle dropping on vinyl at the opening, a baby's giggle--to remind us that it's all in good fun. Boris may have been all down in the dumps back in the AbsoluteGo days, escaping amid thick clouds of bongsmoke and subharmonic dissonance, but today the sun's out and they can see for miles.
And what about their set? The play all of the new album plus at least one newer track. Kuri's fuzz bursts meld perfectly with Wata's screaming acid leads, and the rhythm section is tighter than a nun's clenched sphincter. Between the songs the quartet uses sublime Eno-esque minimal interludes to help make it all go down a little easier, and through it all Boris manages that delicate trick of being able to make everything louder and heavier just when you think they've finally topped out.
Footnote on the subject of marketability: Southern Lord has a curious habit of dressing up its American releases of foreign albums a bit strangely. The original Japanese cover of an orange heart flanked in yellow becomes a bizarre image of an aircraft flying over what looks like urban rubble in the American version. The Japanese release features a few more electronic effects, and a couple of the song titles are different. For instance: The shoegaze stomper "Next Saturn" (from the Japanese release) becomes "My Neighbor Satan" for us Americans, and "Shoot" becomes "Laser Beam." The differences don't stop there. The original Japanese mix of "Shoot" emphasizes is a freaky stripped down minimal pulse which comes off as an ode to (American) electro noise pioneers, Suicide, yet the American version is a much more straight forward fuzz punk stomper that's simply less interesting. If anything, the Japanese version should be called "Laser Beam." I suppose this more typically rock sound could be to appeal to the typical lug-head Southern Lord buyer, or maybe Boris and the Sunno))) boys just like to tinker with shit in their sonic laboratory simply to fuck with minds. Maybe it's a bit of all the above. Makes no diff to this freak. In the end I dig both mixes just fine, and the schizophrenic tendencies fall firmly in line with past Boris sonic adventures. Here's to keeping them (and me) guessing.