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BORIS: SUCH SADNESS IN THEIR SMILE

by Alex V. Cook
originally published: May, 2008

In other words, a totally fucked power ballad.


In other words, a totally fucked power ballad.

BORIS: SUCH SADNESS IN THEIR SMILE

story by Alex V. Cook
originally published: May, 2008

Boris
Smile (Japanese/US Version)
(Diwphalanx/Southern Lord)

Boris has, for the past couple of years, offered a tunnel between big shouldered metallic America and tightly wound kinetic Japanese hard rock scenes, vacillating between more classic rock-ready moments like Pink and doom-minimalism like Absolutego. Whatever they are doing, it is usually loud as hell, loud enough to open the ground below their feet and let all that stands near plummet into the depths with them.

For their recent release Smile, Boris has decided to release two different versions, with sometimes radically different mixes and song placement, perhaps mocking the American covetousness of Japan-only rarities. Or, maybe this is doom metal perestroika, reaching across the smoky abyss of misunderstandings between the cultures. Maybe it was for fun, though I would not number this among Boris' more "fun" material. Whatever it is, it is two similar records that, if examined closely, can drag you into a multi-platform melancholy - occasionally lashing out in rage or howling with the wind, but mostly retreating into a deep funk of guitars and ghost moans.

The process for comparing the two versions is daunting, not just because we are really comparing apples and louder apples, but because the source material is the most depressing of the Boris catalog. And I don't mean that as a dismissive descriptor; this record mines some of the same depths that Southern Lord's black metal cave divers explore, but Boris does it with a decidedly more accessibility. You are in too deep to get out before you know it. Perhaps the message here is that melancholy is truly the universal language, it is the painful undercurrent that unites us all on this miserable rock. That said, here is the blow-by-blow. Enjoy!

Track numbers for the respective versions follow the title.

Japanese version ( Diwphalanx ) Trans. by Google

US Version (Southern Lord)

"メッセージ (Message)" (1) - Does anyone besides me remember "Kundalini Express" by Love & Rockets? I think they are pulling the woo-hoo's from there instead of from the Stones, where Love & Rockets got them. Techno caveman teenage stomp anthem, possibly to soundtrack a foodfight gone lethal at the cram school cafeteria. Boredoms, but more bored.

"Statement" (4) is the balls out gringo version, all squealing orgasmic overload. Perhaps this is the fundamental difference between the two cultures and releases: the Japanese one is more drawn out and meditative, and the English version at half its length is delivered with the delicacy of a bus crash. I prefer the US version.

"BUZZ-IN" (2) - like Fugazi and U2 before them, Boris seems to be fond of putting their thrashy number second. This one is all riffs and backwards psyche in a standoff in the parking lot after final period, once the bit with the baby crying at the start is done.

"BUZZ-IN" (2) is similar here, with the crunch filed down to a sharper edge, punching holes in the Yellow Submarine guitars so that they may fill with murky swamp mud.

"放て!(Shoot!)" (3) - The variant of "Lazer Beam" on the Japanese version has its MC5 cut with much of the meat boiled off the carcass, exposing the flinty bone. The beat is a panting throb deep in the red, occasionally interrupted by molten bursts of guitar. The funny thing is that the vocals sound completely naked through all this. It is a weird way to do a track like this.

"Lazer Beam"(3) - Now THIS is the scorcher thrash runaway train of the two versions. If Judas Priest and a volcano had a baby that grew up in prison, fed only amphetamines placed on mousetraps for the guards' amusement - and then, it takes a lovely acoustic turn in its final minute.

"花・太陽・雨 (Flower Sun Rain)"(4) - The Sunn0))) influence is demonstrated here in the intro, a locusts-swarming-over-a lava-flow buildup that immediately falls away for a burnt-out apocalyptic ballad, dappled with traces of distortion long past while the guitars unfurl like streamers over the ruined landscape. In other words, a totally fucked power ballad.

"Flower Sun Rain"(1) - The Sunn0))) influence can be felt in the fact that this is the lead track. Everything on this version seems to have been filtered through a dirty Sabbath t-shirt, as things quaver until they implode at the end. In other words, an even more fucked power ballad, with the final meltdown causing the grid to short circuit.

" となりのサターン (Nearby Saturn)" (5) - The Japanese version is more delicate doesn't have the grandeur of the US version; the vocals too far up front, the guitars too far back. Perhaps its the infernal downgrade in the title of the US version gives it its resonance.

"My Neighbor Satan" (4) - This is the lightest in tone, and oddly, the finest track on the record. Reminiscent of the My Bloody Valentines delivered on Pink, it's a song bridging their maturity as artists with their youthful ambition. I'm hoping the elevator ride to hell is filled with the sweet chiming tones in this song.

" 枯れ果てた先 (Dead At)"(6) - Buzzsaw in excelsior for seven plus minutes, and the world is slowly fed into the gears of time below it, perhaps to make mulch for a new planet, with just one civilization where they don't need to do two different releases of goddamn record.

" Ka Re Ha Te Ta Sa Ki - No Ones Grieve"(6) - pretty similar actually, a minute longer, a touch more muscular in approach. I suppose we have much more society to destroy in the US.

" 君は傘をさしていた (You've got to the end of the umbrella)" (7) - This is a low key moody bum out, like those rare contemplative Can tracks that have you hiding under your desk in a shiver by the time they unfold. I will maintain there is more than a bit of "Maggot Brain" played at the Boris practice space.

" You Were Holding an Umbrella" (7) - I think these are the same. Or maybe my senses have been rubbed down by this process to such a degree that everything is nothing, and nothing is nothing, and the ink of the void is my only haven.

 

Untitled (8) - The US version is festooned with this blistering slab of hissing death-rattle that, like any dark moment unvanquished, turns violent for a minute and then back to the brood.

"Bonus Track" (8) - Who knows if this is indeed a bonus track or is titled "Bonus Track" I'm too far gone into the blackness to parse it out. Here we get nineteen minutes of smoldering lows and blistering after-burner mayhem cycling in and out of each other like dying binary stars.

"Bonus Track" (9) - This one is shorter by four minutes but you are thankful, for Southern Lord lands you under darker skies. Black waves of despair are rife for the surfing on this Plutonian shore, should you be of the stuff to brave them. While the track on the Japanese version makes a slight turn to the skies, this one directs you straight into the muck, that pulls you under and hardens, leaving nary a trace of your existence.

Alex V. Cook

Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com

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