I had the great pleasure of seeing one of the incarnations of this extraordinary Japanese band in Germany, during a noise music festival. The thing that impressed me most is the ferocity of their approach to sound. They treat it like a weapon, like a solid object to be swung and aimed, like a wave which they control and they have the skill and the power to make it sweep away the audience. The second thing that impressed me, and this on an intellectual level, was their approach to the constraints of the music industry. As far as I can tell, Boris exists in three states, depending on the spelling of the name. “BORIS” means savagery, pure experiment, “amplifier worship” – a barrage of feedback and a terrible unleashing of sound. “Boris” tones this down, introduces structure and limitations. “boris” is the most tame of all incarnations, the form in which the band produces the most accessible, radio-friendly material. Rainbow fits snugly in the second category of releases.
J-pop and J-rock are not genres I’m usually comfortable with. It’s precisely the overblown theatrics and visual element which characterizes the entertainment industry in Japan that puts me off them. I get the feeling I simply don’t have the tools to really get it. Not to mention the extremely voracious way Japanese musicians seem to engulf pop and rock influences from a perspective I can’t help but admit that I don’t share (and probably no-one does, except for them). Boris, however, doesn’t fit in these genres. Their music can make even the most knowledgeable fan of rock music resonate, no matter the cultural background. It’s this universal quality I admire most about them and, more to the point, the very basic, primeval root it stems from – pure love of sound as a means of expression. Sound, unlike music, is not subject to slicing into genres and categories. It is equal to itself and it has tremendous power.
This is what Boris, and especially Michio Kurihara seem to understand very well and they prove it on this album – he’s there to provide the sharp edge, the slicing, frothing-at-the-mouth guitar tone that counterbalances the jazzy, subdued music the rest of the band provides. The amount of refinement some tracks on Rainbow have is staggering. This is an album of contrast. It’s a textbook example of the way proper dosage of sonic elements from different ends of the spectrum can create an impressive, enthralling hybrid which manages to stay fresh every time you hear it.
Boris plays with very diverse influences ranging from late-60s hard-rock no-nonsense riffs to intimidating Ziggurats of sound transmogrified into pure energy the kind I’ve only ever heard Hendrix channel before and to playful, psychedelic lounge musings which remind me of Combustible Edison (you’ve heard them if you saw “Four Rooms”). Keep in mind, all of this one one album. The exact way they manage to make it work eludes me, but I suspect is has much to do with pacing. The way the tracks follow each-other, from desperately intense to delightfully fragile has something very organic, very natural about it, an ebb and flow which manages to give great cohesion to an otherwise very eclectic album.
From an atmospheric point of view, the album creates a rather sterile mood, something bathed in white neon lights, as if it was grown in a laboratory. Even when the absolutely raging guitar kicks in to shake things up it feels like I’m watching an EKG machine or a seismograph throw a fit. There’s something distant about it, something spacious and futuristic, as if the last shreds of humanity in a depopulated world decided to commit themselves to sound as a way of conserving themselves and warning the past. As I’m writing this I realize it sounds a bit too dystopian to ring true. Perhaps there’s less apocalypse and more alienation there. In any case, the album does a great job of conveying a certain feel, successively sad in a pleasant way, furious in a contagious way and elegant in a sophisticated way.
I was surprised to see that one of my favorite tracks on the album has a video – Boris doesn’t seem like the kind of band to bother with videos – and that it’s a great one at that. The feeling of anticipation it incites compliments the album very well. I’m glad I could find it on the ever-generous YouTube.
Boris continued working with Michio Kurihara on another release, called “Cloud Chamber”, but I think this album is a once-in-a-lifetime sort of thing, a perfect storm, if you will, serendipitously bringing together these amazing tone-smiths in a perfect mixture. I would’ve been surprised if they had managed to pull it off again, I truly would have. Not because they technically couldn’t, but because “Rainbow” has that rare quality about it that says it was created almost naturally, like breathing, by the right people at the right time. You don’t expect such an event to be easily repeatable.