Smile (Southern Lord)

After nearly a decade of making hard-to-find slabs of monolithic drone rock, the Japanese trio Boris finally edged its way into American hipster consciousness with the 2006 album Pink, a collection of psychedelic fuzz rock that matched the energy of hardcore with stoner-rock grooves and mountain-sized riffs.

The follow-up—not counting a massive box set of live recordings with noise guru Merzbow, a collaboration with Sunn 0))), the bewildering Vein EP, and a lovely pairing with Japanese guitarist Michio Kurihara—doesn't have the same urgent cohesion as Pink. But Smile does reveal a new, sprawling side of the band hinted at in its recent collaborations. Speed takes priority over heavy, and the few passages of freak-out guitar ("Ka Re Ha Te Ta Sa Ki-No Ones Grieve" and the untitled last track, featuring Sunn 0)))'s Stephen O'Malley) are more exploratory and less monumental than on previous albums.

It's a departure, but Boris has made its career out of bucking expectations. Some of Smile might be boring, but its best parts are as pretty as anything the band has ever recorded.