Boris can either be described as metal’s most chameleonic iconoclasts or the heaviest rock band on the planet, but the truth is that they satisfy the requirements of both without any contradiction. For nearly two decades, the Tokyo trio has built and reshaped fortresses of sludge, frequently setting speakers ablaze with uncompromising riff rock, occasionally committing to hour-long drone meditations and inviting collaboration with artists as far reaching as The Cult’s Ian Astbury, noisemonger Merzbow and funereal drone merchants Sunn0))). Yet the scarce moments in which Boris has tread toward pop-friendly territory, as on Pink‘s breathtaking “Farewell” or the mesmerizing psych-rock of Rainbow, have often proven to be some of their most compelling, particularly if they also happen to be their most colossal.
For Boris, there aren’t many ideas that aren’t worth trying at least once, and though the band’s dalliances with pop and the mainstream have been sporadic, new album Attention Please finds them taking those ideas to an even greater extreme. Released in conjunction with the more straightforward stoner rock album Heavy Rocks, Attention Please comes as a sharp left turn even from a band known for holding little sacred and reveling in experimentation with seemingly every new release. This is not a metal album, nor one of ambient drones. It is not stoner rock, it is not psychedelic folk, and it is certainly not free-form noise. Rather, it’s the band’s own arty and atmospheric pop album, as strange and incredible as that sounds.
While most of the band’s vocals are handled by wailing, headset-outfitted drummer Atsuo, Attention Please is the first Boris album on which guitarist Wata takes the vocal lead. This changes the dynamic considerably, her breathy, smoky coo a softer and less exclamatory device. As such, the songs on the album don’t bludgeon in the way that the meaty rockers on Smile or either edition of Heavy Rocks do. Rather, they’re more seductive and subtle, blending the effects-laden shoegazer atmosphere with post-punk edge, industrial throb and the dark psychedelic haze of The xx. A first listen to the opening title track may very well lead the listener to do a double-take; its smoky noir groove and hypnotic rhythms share little in common with the band that once cranked out the Mötörhead-style anthem “Statement.”
Despite the stylistic leap, however, Attention Please remains identifiably Boris on an aesthetic level, if not a stylistic one. Their unique overdrive sound should be patented, its thick wall of fuzz instantly recognizable even on upbeat, shoegazer-pop songs like highlights “Spoon” and “Hope.” And though Attention Please isn’t as hedonistically aggressive, the band still wields a unique heaviness throughout. “Party Boy” finds a happy medium between disco and sludge metal, Atsuo’s hi-hat rhythms underscoring a dense and distorted bass hook. “Tokyo Wonder Land” marries guitarist Takeshi’s noisy six-string wails to a pulsing, industrial beat, and “Les Paul Custom ’86” is the hookiest, most concise standout here, juxtaposing Wata’s infectious chorus with looping guitar riffs, bizarre chop-ups and even more crushing bass. These moments are balanced out with some of the band’s most delicate as well, as the trio drifts into ambient bliss on “You,” and even offer a brief, acoustic instrumental with the album’s recontextualized version of “Aileron,” which appears on Heavy Rocks in drastically different and much longer fashion.
In many ways, Attention Please is a boldly uncharacteristic album for Boris. Here, they revel in a moodier, more stylized sound that’s both extremely weird and highly accessible. But Boris’ discography reveals that just about anything and everything is to be expected from the band, a dynamic and fearless team that remain in a constant state of evolution while placing their distinctive stamp on whatever stylistic approach they choose to tackle. As they have with sludge metal or psych-rock on albums past, with Attention Please, Boris prove themselves equally powerful as a darkly cool noise pop band. This is an album that challenges expectations and seems to openly thumb its nose at the conventions of genre, but a challenge that sounds this amazing is one worth taking head on.
Stream: Boris – “Hope”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.