WHY: Boris are one of those conundrum bands. They're highly regarded in both the indie music scene as well as the extreme metal scene. Their last album Pink gained a ton of US recognition, vaulting them into a spotlight that has so far been unable to pigeonhole them. A quasi-album (Altar) with avant-drone masters Sunn 0))) and a full-length with psychedelic guitar freak Michio Kurihara (the excellent Rainbow) further blurred any attempt as easy classification. So Smile, their first "proper" album since Pink was eagerly anticipated by wallet chains and devil horns alike. All people would know going in was that this would be a more rock-oriented record (apparently Boris uses all lower-case when releasing anything mellow or experimental and all capitals when bringing forth the mighty rock).
The few reviews I've read have been somewhat mixed, so I have no real preconceptions before diving in. A quick note: apparently the Japanese version has different mixes and possibly different songs. I have the US version from Southern Lord records.
1. Flower, Sun, Rain - A fuzzy chord lingers, feedback goes crazy and suddenly we're very lo-fi as singer Takeshi sings in Japanese from the bottom of a jar. Sounds like the closing credits of a mid-80's Japanese movie played over a mono TV in the next room until a searing guitar solo cuts in. I don't know a whole lot about this band, but I do know that the lead guitarist is shall we say, ah, an attractive woman named Wata (i.e. "insanely hot" in my admittedly juvenile and possibly Freudian opinion) who happens to be a ferocious guitar player. This is a real subdued opener, solo excepted. Long, too, at over seven minutes. Very mood-driven, and nice for a cool rainy Friday morning. The end builds larger and larger with another great solo.
2. Buzz-IN - Bring the metal, baby! Crunchy riffs and huge drums make it sound like the speakers are buzzing out. This is barn burner hard rock. There's not much in the way of explanation here, this is loud, fast, crusty rock that completely owns my geek ass. Two songs in and I'm grinning from ear to ear.
3. Laser Beam - Another fast rocker, with killer guitar in the beginning. Very thrashy. Without a lyrics sheet I'll be honest, I don't even know if they're singing in English or not, but this is great anyway. The second half of the song incorporates keyboard accents wouldn't feel out of place in a nighttime police procedural. Things peter out with some acoustic strumming and picking, and then abruptly ends just as someone starts singing. Is this a defect in my download?
4. Statement - Another balls-out rocker. And I think I heard a cow bell in the opening measures. I think this is even more rock-driven than Pink was. The guitar on this album is shredding.
5. My Neighbor Satan - Things slow down a bit. The guitars swirl, but way in the background. The major presence here are the vocals and keys, moving at a much difference pace than the background. Two minutes in things changes, and the background takes over into a dirge/pop confection that leaves me thinking with only 3 songs to go this might be an A in my book. The music cuts out, and then returns for a coda of frenzied feedback. There's a definite Melvins influence to Boris, but I think their pop sensibilities turn that influence on its head.
6. KA RE HA TE TA SA KI-No One Grieve - Yup. That is actually the name of this song. After a solid 90 seconds of feedback everything erupts into a chaos of swirling chords and crashing drums that settle into a cloud of noise, with yet another killer solo slicing through everything. The vocals come in like smoke, droning more than articulating. This is probably the most "experimental" song so far, but true to the all caps name, everything is firmly embedded in rock.
7. You Were Holding an Umbrella - This starts out slow like "My Neighbor Satan" but that's no guarantee for what could happen - there's 8 minutes to kill. And sure enough, around the four minute mark things pick up a bit, but still in keep with the mellow vibe. This whole section has a heavy 70's vibe flowing, from the organ accents to the lengthy solo and moving bass groove propelling everything forward. The second half of this song may be my favorite thing on Smile so far.
8. ... (Untitled) - I would call this an untitled bonus track, but since the untitled track is 15 minutes long I think (hope) it's safe to say this was already intended to be the closer of the album. It meanders, touching on all the soft, drenched in fuzz moments from the entire records with vocals weaving in and out of the mix, as if they're only there by happenstance.
BOTTOM LINE: A!! Not only is this a great album, I think it surpasses Pink and has become my favorite album of 2008 so far. I've been told the US version is corrupted because the Japanese "original" version is much more electronic, and that those pieces were overdubbed with the solos for the American release. Which I'm sure is true but makes no sense - it's not like there was pressure to "make it modern" or anything - they're not on Warner or anything - so I imagine it's more of a quirk on their part, and one that I'm perfectly fine with. Great, great, great record.