When it comes to confounding and overwhelming the listener with a discography littered with a dizzying myriad of full-lengths, compilations, splits, EPs, collaborations, and altered/enhanced versions of the band all issued on various labels big and small and anything else you care to imagine and throw into the mix, Melvins take the cake. Taking a not-so-distant silver medal is Japanese trio Boris, a band with a history dating back to 1992 and a sound and direction so difficult to put a finger on that Metal Archives officially denotes their genre as "various." If you do a random search on Boris, you'll find the internet describing them as everything from an "experimental band" to simply "a musical group."
Now is not the time or place — and yours truly is not patient or intelligent enough — to make sense of Boris' skyscraping release stack with the band's 27th (give or take whatever's available to give and/or take) full-length on the table. In true-to-form fashion, this latest album isn't even a standalone work given that it acts as a companion to its predecessor from 2020. Written as a quick response to the initial havoc the pandemic and its politicization was having on lives everywhere, NO was Boris shaking out all their doom sludge and hardcore punk tendencies. W, written on the back end of almost two years of life at a standstill, is the comparative, soothing foil to NO's harshness. And if you haven't yet caught on, together the two album titles combine to spell "NOW," a cheeky affirmation that these releases are a product of unprecedented times and the rollercoaster of emotions and bullshit therein.
The final track on NO was called "Interlude," which should have been the first hint something was up. What's up is the melody from the closing moments of "Interlude" being shared with and opening W in the guise of "I Want To Go To The Side Where You Can Touch…," an airy piece that floats between My Bloody Valentine soundscape and moaning Moog wash-outs. The ethereality of this track sets the tone for the majority of the rest of the record. Aside from the flourish of sprawling, Orange amp and pounding drum thunder that closed out "The Fallen," the final Torche-like third of "Beyond Good and Evil" and the apprehensive stoner shuffle of "You Will Know (Ohayo Version)," this is Boris at their ambient, new age-y, humming, psychedelic, chamber orchestrated, chilled out-ness.
There are moments where it feels like you're being lovingly absorbed and enveloped by sound. "Icelina" combines Portishead sparsity with a dirty hippie pulling up a stool, an acoustic guitar, and a homemade pedalboard at a liberal arts college's open mic night. "Drowning By Numbers" is reminiscent of Painkiller and Praxis exploring how to grate nervous systems with understated abrasion combined with insidious trip-hop rhythms. "Old Projector" conjures images of Enya jamming with Miranda Sex Garden. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are swaths of stark minimalism and emptiness where it feels like you're sitting back and waiting for something to happen, the contrast making things appear that much more minimal and empty. A track like "Invitation" comes across more like random noises than organized sound and "Jozan" is simply a one-minute and twenty-five-second cover of John Cage's "4:33."
How W lands will depend on where it lands. The segment of the public experiencing this record will be as important to its success as the content itself. Boris super-fans will continue to experience the breadth of the trio's journey and worship accordingly. People who find that minimalism doesn't push enough air to be stimulating will likely find this to be sonic wallpaper. The opposite should be true for fans of ambient music and active listeners who enjoy discovering the different tones, forms, and textures sound can take. Here's how we're hoping it falls: somehow, the booking agent gods figure a way to get Boris on tour with Blood Incantation so that both bands can do split sets consisting of their quiet and minimal moments buttressed up against their loud and distorted bombast. The dynamics would be mind-bending, just like Boris themselves continue to be.