Henry Rollins said of 2020’s NO that it “is more than the new album by Boris. It is their reaction and comment on the current state of the world as they see it. It would be all but impossible to deny that almost every aspect of human life has been impacted. No matter where you’re from or how you’re living, things are different than they used to be. The collective uncertainty, anger, frustration, confusion and sheer life on the edge existence is reflected in NO.”
I said, “This is probably, for me, the most immediate and direct Boris release for years – maybe since Pink. This is Boris at their angriest and most indignant. The band pound, thrash, snarl and growl, and the message is ‘NO’. This is a pummelling punk album at full pelt, full of middle fingers and fuck yous.“
But why am I talking about NO from 2020 in a review of 2022’s W? Because to write about one, without acknowledging the other simply seems wrong to me. In case anyone ever wondered why NO closed with a quite beautiful and quietly understated Interlude, the answer is NOW. I stated in my review of NO that there was something truly cathartic about the heavy, harsh and hardcore noise assailing my eardrums, and recognised why Boris called it “extreme healing music”. It was surely as cathartic to record as it is to listen to, and with its writing, perhaps W was already set in stone. Inevitable. In removing all their negative energy with the release (literal and metaphorical) of NO, Boris found a way of “healing” themselves. NO and W have a connected flow that exists beyond their titles, and continuation after an interlude. W is the reverberation of NO, the gentler waves that ripple out from a still body of water after a stone is slammed into it. Even the shape of a W is a wave of sorts.
Or maybe W stands for Wake, not Wave? Because after healing, there is an awakening of sorts. Maybe W is not so much a reverberation as a reawakening? Or maybe it is Womb, and W is a re-birth? Or maybe it’s all of these? And probably, it stands for none of these, but simply itself – a recognition of NOW. What I like about W is that Boris have always said that they never know the final shape of what they’re creating when they begin playing. So they will not have known exactly how W would turn out, but there is no doubt in my mind that by the end of NO, they already knew the direction they would go in W. It’s everything NO is not, and it makes for a glorious Yin and Yang experience when the two are listened to back to back. (Boris have said that W completes “a continuous circle of harshness and healing.”) As distorted and claustrophobic as NO is, W is expansive and atmospheric. NO is all fuzz driven guitar, but W has much fuller and varied instrumentation and pedal use.
All lead vocals on W are taken by Wata. Is this to keep in theme with the W, or merely coincidental? I can’t believe it is completely coincidental, but nor do I believe that is the sole or even main reason. What it does do is emphasise the difference between the two albums even more. Wata has a voice that Is definitely powerful in its own way, but could still be described as fragile, or delicate. It would simply be overpowered and drowned out under the noise of NO, but within W Wata’s voice can shine and soar. Not that this is necessarily obvious in opening number I Want to Go to the Side Where You Can Touch…, where it floats, ebbs and flows just under the surface of the swelling and swirling instrumentation. That watery imagery continues throughout the album, so that just as I spoke of NO having a literal and metaphorical release, so does W have a literal and metaphorical flow. The songs do not necessarily segue into each other, but have a smooth and continuous motion. And that continuous motion began with NO, as Interlude shares much of its melody with I Want to Go to Side Where You Can Touch…
If Boris were drawing from a palette of sludge, drone, and punk for NO, W paints with ambient, shoegaze and trip hop textures and colours. It’s reflective, introspective, and undeniably beautiful. Every now and then, for example with The Fallen or Old Projector, there are sharper edges to the music. Or maybe, hidden depths. For W is a heavily layered album whose density is belied by its lightness of touch. Like an iceberg, you don’t realise the scale and mass when you initially see only what’s above the surface. W is an iceberg. To describe its sound as minimalist would be to mistake the full grandeur of sound. For sure, it is (mostly) quieter and calmer than a typical Boris release (if there is even such a thing, given all the ground they’ve covered over the years), but it is not minimalist. You Will Know, an absolute highlight of W, could take down the Titanic with ease. It’s possibly the most beautiful thing Boris has ever recorded, but it is incredibly powerful. Contemplative, ethereal, ominous, haunting, meditative, You Will Know encapsulates the ambiguity of mood and feeling heard throughout the album.
The album closes with the NO-like sludge and fuzz of Jozan, but almost silently. It’s a neat trick, and works in bringing the sound of W back to NO, just as Interlude worked to join NO to W. Somehow I doubt it’s their intention, but I love to play with the flow of the albums, playing them on repeat, but starting in a different position. In my mind, this is somewhat similar to what you can do with the Boris and Merzbow release Gensho, Released as 2LPs or 2CDs, the album 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. The possibilities for variation in starting point for listening to NOW are obviously not so endless, but because of the way the albums lead into each other, you can have many different listening experiences. Or, of course, you can simply enjoy W for what it is. It certainly doesn’t need NO to be enjoyed, and is a very strong release in the vast Boris discography on its own.
01. I Want to Go to the Side Where You Can Touch… (5:23)
02. Icelina (5:18)
03. Drowning by Numbers (4:15)
04. Invitation (2:55)
05. The Fallen (4:30)
06. Beyond Good and Evil (3:51)
07. Old Projector (4:38)
08. You Will Know (Ohayo Version) (9:19)
09. Jozan (1:25)
Total Time – 41:34
Wata – Vocals, Guitar, Accordion, Music Box, Echo
Takeshi – Vocals, Bass, Guitar
Atsuo – Vocals, Drums, Percussion, Electronics
suGar Yoshinaga – Vocals, Guitar, Synth
TOKIE – Bass (on You Will Know)
Record Label: Sacred Bones
Country of Origin: Japan
Date of Release: 21st January 2022