If you’re a fan of Japanese band Boris, 2020 has been a great year. NO is a phenomenally good album. It’s a real belter – short, sharp and to the point. I didn’t write much about it in a recent A Different Aspect review, but what I did write was glowing. It’s heavy and hardcore. It’s noisy, but not so much the noise one might expect. But it rocks, and it still sounds like Boris. Furthermore, since that album was released, Boris has been doing a great job of giving access to releases previously only available in Japan, and/or which have been long out of print (including their debut), and their Bandcamp page is fast becoming a real goldmine! But wait, there’s still more – and it’s something even sharper than six steak knives. The new collaboration with fellow Japanese noise-maker Merzbow provides a barnstorming eulogy to 2020 (the title 2R0I2P0, if you read between the lines, is RIP 2020), and at a time when I thought I had finally worked it out, has pushed its way into my list of favourite releases of this year.
Boris and Merzbow have a long history of collaborating, though I have only one other such collaboration, 2016’s Gensho. If I’m honest, I thought Gensho couldn’t be topped. Released as 2LPs or 2CDs, the album was designed for the discs to be played simultaneously. One disc of Boris, and one of Merzbow, with the mix being entirely up to the listener. The two could be played in or out of sync, and the volume of the Boris and Merzbow parts can obviously be adjusted to bring one further forward or pushed back. The possibilities to create different soundscapes are almost endless. Now I have a confession to make (for if I didn’t make it, I’m pretty sure I would be outed anyway). For four years (four long years) I had never listened to Gensho as intended, as it never occurred to me I could. For some stupid reason I thought I would need two disc players, when all along (because I had the album ripped to my iPod), I needed only to play the CD and the MP3s together. The two discs are actually both great by themselves, so it’s not as if I haven’t enjoyed the music in those four years, but it’s still kind of embarrassing that it’s taken me so long to listen to the album as intended.
In any case, I bring Gensho up, because the one criticism I read about it was that there was no third disc with the two pre-mixed. Now obviously (or, at least, obviously to me) this is because it would defeat the purpose, as there was intended to be no one true mix. Depending on how you offset the playing of one of the two discs, and what volume you have to each, the mix will be different every time. That’s the joy and fun of Gensho (and now that I have realised I can play it this way, I can assure you it is joyful and fun – and the two discs really do sound better together – by a HUGE measure). But (because there is always a but), let’s face it, it does require more effort on the listener’s part. This year’s 2R0I2P0 requires no such effort, so you can put it on and drift away in the beautiful wave of noise that follows.
And 2R0I2P0 is a beautiful wave of noise. I hadn’t paid attention to the track list before playing it, so I didn’t realise until I started that the album is mostly reworkings from last year’s LOVE & EVOL album. I recently asked someone who I knew listened to a lot of Japanese music if they were familiar with Boris. His answer was that he had sampled some of their work, but found it a little hit and miss. My reply was that even most Boris fans probably find their discography a little hit and miss – so greatly can their many releases vary in sound and style. I’ll be honest, and say that of the Boris albums and collaborations I own (which is not even half of what they have released), LOVE & EVOL is possibly my least favourite (though I still like it). But for anyone who wasn’t that impressed by that album, and is therefore worried about reworked tracks from that album making up the mainstay of this new release – don’t be! For as much as I’ve never really got fully into LOVE & EVOL, I am completely enamoured with 2R0I2P0. Merzbow and Boris together are absolutely greater than the sum of the parts.
I don’t really think I can put it better than the Boris and Merzbow Bandcamp page does, so I’m just going to quote from there at this point: “Musically, BORIS helps to shape MERZBOW’s wall of noise as a composed musical score with structure, and to make it easier to access the noise master’s music while MERZBOW adds an extreme high frequency to BORIS’ signature heavier sound.” There’s no better description, really. Boris provides music, melody in waves of heavy drones that crash against Merzbow’s wall of sounds, just as waves at a beach crash against a sea wall. There is something entirely natural sounding about the combined noise, even peaceful, regardless of how chaotic and cacophonous it can be. Even in its heaviest moments, I find the music calming and beguiling.
One thing that I think elevates 2R0I2P0 over LOVE & EVOL is a greater sense of consistency, cohesiveness, and flow. With LOVE & EVOL, the beauty of opening track Away From You slammed into the beast of Coma, and even though I like both tracks, it doesn’t really work for me. Now, the beauty of Away From You is already subverted by the beast, and before meeting Coma, the absolutely incredible To The Beach intervenes. LOVE and EVOL are transposed in sequence, and the journey between them is increased by the addition of Journey and Absolutego. The album still ends with Shadow of Skull, but the penultimate track is now a cover of The Melvins’ song that gave Boris their name. The new track order makes an incredible difference to the sound – even without taking into account the glorious noise provided by Merzbow. For example, EVOL was always a real highlight of LOVE & EVOL (if you take a look at the Bandcamp page for that album, you’ll see it’s often given as a favourite track by those who have bought it), but it has so much more impact towards the end, rather than closer to the beginning.
I’m not sure if I would say that 2R0I0P0 is greater than Gensho, as they are presented so differently, it makes them hard to compare, but at this moment I do feel disposed to give the newer collaboration the edge. Knowing I can just throw it on, without needing to faff about, appeals to my laziness. And knowing that once I’ve thrown it on, I will be in aural bliss is even more appealing. My only criticism of this album is that I might not ever listen to LOVE & EVOL again. Oh, and maybe the tiniest grumble for making me have to reconsider what my favourite releases from this year are.
01. Away from You (7:36)
02. To the Beach (7:10)
03. Coma (3:14)
04. LOVE (6:43)
05. Absolutego (4:31)
06. Journey (7:46)
07. Uzume (6:51)
08. EVOL (13:05)
09. Boris (8:50)
10. Shadow of Skull (12:10)
Total Time – 77:54
Takeshi – Vocals, Bass Guitar, Rhythm Guitar
Wata – Vocals, Lead Guitar, Keyboards
Atsuo – Vocals, Drums, Percussion, Electronics
Merzbow – Noise, Distortion, Feedback
Record Label: Relapse Records
Country of Origin: Japan
Date of Release: 11th December 2020