Wednesday, November 11, 2009

#47. Boris - Boris at Last -Feedbacker- (Diwphalanx, 2003) and Dronevil (Misanthropic Agenda, 2005)

Like most people I came to the wonderful, occasionally frightening world of Boris through what might well be the single worst entry point in their catalog. That's not saying anything against 2005's Pink, it's a great album full of excellent slices of stoner rock and containing the single best shoegaze song of the decade in "Farewell," but when it comes down to it it's the last place you'd want to start exploring their catalog from. Sure it sets the scene in a lot of ways, introducing the basic elements of the band's sound and doing so in a remarkably palatable way, but imagine going from there to any other release in their catalog. I'm by no means well versed in all their albums, but of the half dozen or so I've heard only 2008's Smile is on the same page sonically, otherwise going from Pink to any other point in the Boris catalog is like jumping off a cliff without knowing how far of a fall it actually is or what's at the bottom. Personally I went to Absolutego second and the contrast shocked me in a very harsh way: it made Pink seem like a pop album and Pink made it seem like a n endurance test. I've grown to love Absolutego in the intervening years, but I'll always remember that first exposure to the more trying side of Boris as one of the most unexpected shocks of my music listening life.

In learning to appreciate the stuff like Absolutego it started to dawn on me that there are basically two types of Boris releases: albums and experiments. The albums are the stuff like Pink or Smile or even Akuma No Uta where teh focus is more on individual songs than anything else the experiments are the more interesting side of Boris, almost by default, because they're concerned with the way an album is listened to more so than on the contents thereof. Feedbacker is an experiment in expanding the basic doom metal song to its breaking point and drawing it out for 47 minutes. Dronevil is an experiment in using the different sides of Boris, both on their own and simultaneously, to give a complete picture of their sound and demonstrate how one end enhances the other. That all sounds incredibly pretentious, and it kinda Is I'll admit, but the results in both cases are fascinating and mindblowing. Boris are at their best when they're not too concerned with things like digestible tracks or something resembling hooks, and both of these albums show why that is in very different ways.

Dronevil is probably more deserving of the 'experiment' tag if only for the quadraphonic element of its production, but if that was all it had going for it I doubt it would get even a passing mention in this discussion. Allow me a brief diversion here: the problem with something like The Flaming Lips' Zaireeka is that you needed to hear all four discs simultaneously for it to work at all. Listening to the four constituent discs consecutively is more frustrating than anything else because the division of the tracks between them makes it impossible to get anything resembling a full idea of what the songs entail until you start combining the parts. In the case of Dronevil though, listening to either of the discs on its own is just as powerful as the simultaneous play is. That's not to say that the individual discs are anywhere near as good on their own, but you could listen to them as single units and be perfectly content. The Drone disc is as unsettling as any of Boris' other less guitar-based outings and the Evil disc is a prime slice of chugging doom metal. If you didn't know they were meant to ply together you'd be just fine with them as a two-hour experience unveiling the two sides of Boris at their best. Played together though a whole new album emerges. The unsettling elongated tones of the Drone disc underpinning the heaviness of the Evil disc add so much to the experience that whatever subtler joys there were in the separated listen are all but forgotten. And as with any multi-disc simultaneous experiment, there's never a auarantee that you'll be hearing the same album any two times you play it, and even if the timing's a little off it works out beautifully. I'm just working off the original issue before the band expanded both sides of the attack on the 2006 re-issue, but if they get the mix as close to right as they did on the original it's gotta be one of their best documents.

The only real competition for that title that I've heard from this decade would be 2003's sprawling 47-minute, single track - though its subdivided into 5 movements - Feedbacker. The idea behind it isn't as novel as the one behind Dronevil, which wasn't all that novel in and of itself, but the results are even more mesmerizing. The build up through the first two movements is especially intense, full of lurching, vague, drawn out passages that are just rich with foreboding, especially during the second part. Then it all explodes with one hell of a thick, bluesy guitar solo that makes up the third part and a continuing climax across the fourth. the denouement in the final section may not be as eventful but it provides the perfect capper for the piece. It's pretty straightforward if you think about it, but the trio pull it off with the sort of panache that only they could. It's shocking how good they are at so many branches of heavier music, as each album they record is differnt from the last but just as good if not better. The thing that makes Feedbacker stand out is the unity of the piece their playing - and keep in mind that their other album in that vein, 2000's Flood, is one I have yet to hear - that even their other 'experiments' lack. For 47 minutes they've got you wrapped up in the gradual build and flow of a single evocative, moody and crushing piece of music, and when its over the only complaint I have is that I wish it had gone on longer.

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