It’s not quite enough to say that Boris is a versatile band. The Japanese trio, who once began life as a doom metal band, has taken heavy music well beyond the expected journey of balancing atmosphere, heaviness, noise and melody, and deeper into genres that sometimes expand outside some heshers’ comfort zones. But even more curious than the band’s forays into folky psychedelic rock or dance-friendly doom pop are their tendencies to revisit and recontextualize their material. They’ve released two separate and unrelated albums under the same title — Heavy Rocks — and issued two strikingly different versions of their 2008 album Smile, the Japanese version revealing a more abstractly mixed version of the more straightforward stoner rock of the U.S. version.
Whatever confusion and surprise resulted in the odd Smile division is likely to be muted with any of the band’s further experiments, yet the transformation on New Album, their third full-length release of 2011, is the most drastic of the band’s catalog. New Album, originally released in Japan in March, compiles a handful of new tracks alongside songs from Heavy Rocks and Attention Please, re-imagined as glittery, dreamy J-Pop anthems. Where, in another life, these songs may have boomed, buzzed, slithered or slunk, here they flash and glisten with blinding starbursts. It would almost come a complete shock to the system, had the band not sent off a warning shot with Attention Please and its ensuing tour with American dream-pop outfit Asobi Seksu.
Though not entirely without precedent, New Album is Boris’ glossiest, most melodic and, unquestionably, weirdest album to date. At times, such as on opening track “Flare,” the exclamatory nature and avoidance of subtlety can seem like being transported into a frenetically paced video game. Yet, that’s also what makes New Album all the more charming in the long run. It’s a multi-colored firecracker of a record, popping and spinning in every direction with brilliant giddiness.
In some cases, the changes are subtle, like the slightly more streamlined “Hope,” or the more densely layered “Spoon,” which flaunt the band’s knack for indie pop songwriting and shoegazer textures. But some of their darker, noisier material is almost unrecognizable from their previous incarnations. Attention Please‘s stoner-pop highlight “Les Paul Custom ’86” removes the crusty bassline for a hypnotic electro treatment, while “Jackson Head” goes from headbanger to (somewhat less successfully) bouncing synth-pop jam. And all it really takes is a wash of synthesized strings and effects to turn the post-hardcore rush of “Tu, La La” into a primetime action drama theme song. Oddly enough, it comes together into an impressive new piece, preserving the urgency of the original while casting it in a surprising new light.
Looking back, fans probably should have seen Boris’ leap to electrified dream pop coming when they stopped using album titles like Feedbacker and Dronevil, and began naming their records with words like Rainbow and Pink. And yet, New Album still feels wholly unexpected, standing like a bright, neon skyscraper amidst a discography of swampy, dense metal. No doubt, Boris still has plenty of drop-D riffs to share in their future, but this year’s trio of albums has proven quite handily that no singular style can contain this band.
Stream: Boris – “Spoon”
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.