Record #371: Boris – Noise (2014)

Boris is one of those black hole bands. You know–groups with outputs so prolific and consistent that it’s impossible to choose a starting point. You know, bands like Sonic Youth, Stereolab, Mogwai…
And like all of those groups, Boris has cut their teeth indulging every experimental whim and recording every note they’ve ever played. Noise, their nineteenth album, might be a controversial pick for a favorite Boris album, but it’s a microcosm of their entire catalogue. The variety of the disc might be best described by their own press release, which describes the album as an intermingling of “sludge-rock, blistering crust punk, shimmering shoegaze, epic thunderous doompsychedelic melodies.” 

That might sound hyperbolic, but it is entirely correct. In fact, it completely skips over the bouncing J-pop that informs the sugary sweetness of “Taiyo no Baka.” And needless to say, the guitar amps are pushed almost to blowing the whole way.

Fans of Boris of course aren’t surprised by any of it. Their (reputed, anyway) landmark album Pink spun from long-form doomgaze to head-banging garage punk at whiplash speeds. My issue with Pink is that it spends too much time in the garage and not enough indulging the slow burners that they play better than anyone.

Noise on the other hand rests on the other side of that coin. The album tends more towards the crushing heaviness of tracks like “Ghost of Romance” and “Heavy Rain” (after all, I originally looked up Boris after seeing them in the “similar artists” on the Russian Circles AllMusic profile). Even “Vanilla,” the most straight-ahead rock song on here, still makes good use of the rumbling, detuned guitars and metal riffs that informs the rest of the album. 

The album’s centerpiece, the nineteen minute long “Angel” is a masterwork of tension and release. The first section drones alongside a looped four note guitar riff, vocals and drums joining in a few minutes in. The song teases a catharsis a number of times–the drums play a few fills anticipating a crescendo, only to drop back out to let the drone continue on. A few minutes in, distorted guitar chords swell in on a new progression, and after a few measures of building, the explosion we’ve been promised finally hits in the second section, soaring guitar solo, crushing bass chords and all. It burns wild and huge at the same droning tempo for a couple minutes, then the drums riff into a hard rocking double time section that bears zero resemblance to the opening minutes of the track.

This third section crashes to a close in an almost “Thank You Cleveland!” moment of cymbal crashes and guitar feedback. But out of those ashes rises a new heavily-delayed guitar riff in a major key. The drums rejoin and a tremolo picked guitar rises up the scale, making for one of the most beautiful moments on the disc. It all decays into an incoherent wash of reverb and echo, which reaches its apex and abruptly segues back into the opening guitar loop. For a few minutes, the song teases another moment of catharsis before letting the drone ring out to silence, ending this wild ride where it began. 

It’s a happy accident that the vinyl edition puts “Angel” on its own side of the disc, because such an expansive masterwork deserves a moment of silence to rest before the start of the trashing, shrieking crust punk of “Quicksilver,” the first few minutes of which is the only moment on the disk that sometimes rubs me the wrong way. But only a band like Boris has the guts to follow a masterpiece like “Angel” with a breakneck tempo, screamy song. Or rather, that’s what it is for the first six of its ten minutes, before its heavy punk riffage gives way to a few minutes of unfiltered doomgaze. 

Having only scratched the surface of the Boris iceberg, Noise delivers everything that makes Boris appealing to me. Heavy guitars, sludgy tempos, and plenty of moments of post rock catharsis. This is my first Boris record, but I doubt it will be the last.

Also, I’d watch the hell out of whatever imaginary anime series “Melody” is the theme for.

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