When I was selling T-shirts for Damon & Naomi on tour with Boris back in 2007, a lot of the audience didn’t understand the pairing. Especially fans of the latter band. Why would the red-hot heroes of stony, noisy doom rock from Japan hit the road with the acid-folk offshoot of slowcore pioneers Galaxie 500? I told the black-shirted vinyl freaks that the answer wasn’t exactly right before them, but rather on the side of the stage.
Guest guitarist Michio Kurihara would stand in the shadowy outskirts during either band’s set and add his mostly understated but always intense flourishes and effects, adding nuances to the Tokyo rockers’ explosive set and noise to the Cambridge duo’s understated arrangements. In fact, both Boris and D&N had released albums in conjunction with the insanely talented shredder from Ghost and Stars. And they’re also all just plain friends. Coincidentally, both Damon & Naomi and Boris are releasing new music this month–with Kurihara.
Damon and Naomi are known and loved for their original, sparse, and sad sound but their songwriting has never stopped evolving over 25 years of recording and touring. The seventh album’s musical aesthetic borders on grand and touches on cosmic, but is never less than lovely. The style was touched on in the previous album’s amazing “Stars Never Fade” cut, with just slightly more melody than dissonance and less of an orchestral backdrop than that of avant chamber music. Beautiful and brainy. And while certain members of the Terrastock crowd will cringe as I mention classic rock touchstones like Pink Floyd or the Stones, Many songs on False Beats and True Hearts are supremely catchy, as well. It isn’t hard to construct bridges between “Wish You Were Here” and “Wild Horses” with “Walking Backwards” and “Shadow Boxing.”
The voices and instruments of the eponymous duo are always front, center, and clear in the mix, with lush backgrounds that are gorgeous yet challenging and never pandering, thanks to arrangements by ace sax player Bhob Rainey. Meanwhile, the mountain-leveling forces of Kurihara are balanced by the soulful strumming of fellow Ghost member and D&N friend Masaki Butoh. Wow. Whether you consider it modern minstrel fare, indie folk for the advanced, or Boston pops for the unpopular–it’s conceptual music that doesn’t require effort to enjoy or appreciate.
At the same time, Boris is unleashing not one but two full-length albums of new music. For most bands, such an outpouring would reflect a lack of editorial restraint (Sandinista!) or the need to subsidize copious substance abuse (Use Your Illusion I and II). However, the trio from Tokyo is already well known for its far-reaching musical palette, which touches on the most abstract of atmospheric noise, the heaviest of death dirges, and ass-shaking psychedelic rock. Since they are out of their minds playing top-end music, why not feed the hungry fans who will willingly shell out for hard-to-get imported vinyl?
Attention Please is probably the band’s prettiest (in the traditional sense) effort from start to end. The song that Wata sings on the Rainbow album with Kurihara has anchored live set for a while now, so it’s no surprise that her vocals are present throughout for the first time. And while her voice is distant, dreamy, and effortless–and so is much of the music–the band never abandons its pursuit of maximum density of sound, cosmic heaviness, or fun. Electronic glitches and farting drum machines fit comfortably next to fuzzed-out guitar noise and unironic cowbells. Songs like “Party Boy” and “Les Paul Custom ’86″ are supremely catchy but solidly rooted in tweaked-out, experimental rock, somewhat recalling the Goo era of Sonic Youth, which touched on Electric Youth. Certain headbangers will be disappointed by the album’s somewhat cut-and-paste aesthetic–compared to the band’s more slow grinding sound–but I find it refreshing and can’t wait to hear what they do to the songs in a live setting.
Heavy Rocks has a darker and heavier sound, and it’s not just because Takeshi handles most of vocals. The songs are more swirling, psychedelic, and dark with a jammier sound that includes guest contributors like Aaron Turner from Isis and Ian Astbury from The Cult as well as Kurihara. That these equally realized but massively different albums were recorded in the same studio and self-produced by the same band is mind boggling. Of course, Heavy Rocks itself isn’t limited to one sound. “Aileron” is as droning, heavy, and heavy as a bucket of frozen molasses, while “Galaxians” is an aptly named headbanger with lighting-fast riffs that jump out to attack you just like the darting aliens in the classic videogame. The bone-crushing variety and disparity will not be unfamiliar to fans who where blown away by the identidally titled but orange-hued release almost 10 years ago, yet it manages to sound brand-new once again.