Attention Please (Sargent House)
Heavy Rocks (Sargent House)
The Japanese heavy psych/drone/etc. trio Boris releases a lot of music. Besides the expected singles, EPs, and full albums the band has put out over the last 15 years, there's been an unmanageable flood of special vinyl and import issues, tour-only collectibles, live discs, and collaborations and split recordings, much of it hard to find, and expensive when you do. The knee-deep catalog of music is part of Boris' charm, but it's also easy to resist—stick to the major stuff and you get the benefit of what little editing the band does.
So news that Boris would release its next two albums at the same time—and that those releases would be preceded by another Japan-only album by just a couple of months—wasn't heartening. The band has been on a slippery ride since the success of Pink in 2006. Some fans found the two collaboration albums with Michio Kurihari of Japanese fellow travelers Ghost a bit dull (they're not); Smile, from 2008, is one of the band's most lackluster albums; and few listeners connected with the odd BXI, an EP from last year featuring the Cult's Ian Astbury. The one promising note in the announcement was that guitarist Wata, who had previously sung on only a few singles, would provide all the lead vocals on Attention Please, one of the new discs.
Attention Please is the more noteworthy of the pair, and not just because of Wata's vocals. The band's whole approach is changed here, the slabs of guitar noise making way for slinky, sexy dance rock, straight Daydream Nation-style alt-rock, and a fuzzy, glimmering, romantic pop that would fit on a 4AD album from the early 1990s. (There are also a handful of moments of guitar fireworks that will remind listeners of the band's earlier work.) The new modes are appropriate for Wata's ethereal voice, and the highlights—the chiming shoegaze of "Spoon," in particular—are high indeed. But overall Attention Please sounds a little desperate, its throwback vibe too safe and its experiments, like the glitchy electro-rock of "Les Paul Custom '86," too predictable.
Heavy Rocks, the band's other new album, shares its title with a Boris album from 2002. It, too, is a bit of a throwback—this time to the sound of the band in the early 2000s. The new Heavy Rocks is blueprint Boris, from the soupy cosmic exploration of "Riot Sugar" and the punk-meets-Blue Cheer chug of "Window Shopping," "Jackson Head," and "GALAXIANS" to the metallic flame-out "Czechoslovakia." What it lacks in innovation it more than makes up for with energy and heavy hooks, the very things that are missing from Attention Please.