Boris BorisHeavy Rocks / Attention Please
Whenever I hear a band are releasing a double-album, alarm bells start ringing. There's a bad, overblown smell about it, like a gas cloud emanating from the arse of an over-indulgent emperor. Usually there's a suspicion the artists in question are trying to disguise a dearth of inspiration as a deluge, or even worse, simply engaging in a money-spinning exercise. At the very least it indicates a lack of quality control.
Before people start citing “London Calling” or “Electric Ladyland”, we're talking about CDs here. Vinyl can generally only capture a paltry 25-odd minutes of music per side, which is a bit stingy (although even classic vinyl doubles have their filler - do we really need “Lover's Rock” stinking up The Clash's opus?). CDs store a far roomier 80 minutes, a limit no album should exceed that lest it results in another bloated bilge-balloon like “Stadium Arcadium” or Lou Reed's “The Raven”.
Boris have attempted to skirt the issue by launching two separate albums simultaneously rather than one double. This might irritate some fans and leave the band open to accusations of money-grubbing, but the difference between the records imply it just didn't make sense shoehorning two very different products into one package. And in fact the ploy will help you out, as only one of these albums is really worth owning.
And it's not “Heavy Rocks”. Confusingly, it shares its title and cover design with the band’s 2002 album, the orange cover dyed purple. Musically it also comes across very much like an eager younger brother, desperately trying to ape its older sibling's studied strut. Heavy riffs and hearty metal abound, but everything just sounds lightweight compared to the ferocious growl of its predecessor. “Galaxians” pounds purposelessly like a Sunday jogger, and although “Missing Pieces” and “Aileron” have their moments, there's not nearly enough of them to justify both tracks being over ten minutes long. There are high points (the opening two numbers pack a tantalising wallop), but too often it lurches towards the over-earnest or the inconsequential, leaving the entire enterprise open to those accusations of quality control abandonment.
Conversely, “Attention Please” completely justifies its own separate release. By far the most gentle thing Boris have ever done, it runs the risk of pissing off fans for parting with their heavier trademarks just as “Heavy Rocks” does by parodying them. It’s essentially an indie record, albeit one that ambitiously tries to cover the last twenty years of alternative rock in a mere ten tracks. Sonic Youth, Mazzy Star and Indian Jewelry are all evoked at points, thanks to female guitarist Wata’s surprising turn as lead singer. Her voice provides a sweetly understated foil to textured, skittish workouts like “Tokyo Wonder Land” despite the singing sometimes sounding too obviously overdubbed, which risks dragging you back to reality just as you were about to become fully immersed.
Thankfully this isn't a problem on the ambient industrialism of “See You Next Week” or the shoegazy “Spoon”, which demonstrates Boris can do dreamy at any tempo or volume. “Hope” meanwhile is a blistering take on Blonde Redhead with extra-crunchy guitars.
Essentially, this is the new album. It offers something we haven't heard from Boris over an entire record before, whereas its counter-piece is more a rehash of past practices.
So after almost 20 years of restless experimentation Boris find themselves at a fork in the road, and helpfully they've chosen to signpost it with these recordings. “Attention Please” points towards a mellowing future, whereas “Heavy Rocks” takes the less-than-scenic route back towards the band's ear-splitting origins. The fact they felt the need to release both albums suggests an indecision over which route to take, as does the recent Japanese-only LP “New Album”, which includes alternate versions of songs featured on both these records (I know, it's confusing. Damn you, Boris!). Bearing in mind the band's contempt for restraint, chances are they'll probably end up somewhere completely new. Let’s just hope there'll be no more double-albums en route.
Kier Wiater Carnihan