Friday, May 2, 2008

Boris: Miscalculating in the Aftermath


Recently we took a look at the problem of artistic aftermath, of trying to navigate, to reorient oneself after reaching a point of no return. Think Nico going from the breezy tambourine blonde who sang Jackson Browne-penned songs on "Chelsea Girls" to the nihilistic proto-goth cemetery dweller of "The Marble Index". Radiohead post-OK Computer is probably the most compelling contemporary example of a group trying to find its way exactly when there's no way anymore, trying to cut some kind of path across a signless desert of unexplored possibilities.

The Japanese psych-noise trio Boris, having found itself in the eye of a storm of praise following its album Pink, has recently gone through a similar process. The new album Smile has all kinds of marks on it of a highly talented band going through all kinds of untried tricks in order to work itself out of the corner it has found itself in.

Now here is the track that opens the Japanese version of Smile, "Message" and which does not appear on the US release, except in a wildly de-balled version (renamed "Statement"). The track has a markedly similar electro-triphammer rhythmic punch to "Machine Gun", the new single by Portishead, and it sounds like some kind of unholy punk Konono 1 hybrid: Hawkwind doing the soundtrack for Mad Max in Africa. It's the best thing on either version of the record. While it's a mystery to me what it's doing absent from the US version, the fact of this absence sums up the disoriented state that Boris must kind of have been in: making out-there stuff they've never done before, but then not having the confidence, or not giving enough of a shit, to take it all the way, to follow the line of flight across the desert. Portishead, in contrast, are heroes of the aftermath problem, they managed to throw off their accumulated stylistic baggage and strike deep in the vein at point zero.

But that's the aftermath for you, it's also after-math, it comes after math, after a way of calculating, of adding up, of accounting or taking score, has failed or is no longer available. It's math after math, and while it's not always as aesthetically satisfying as the high-point that an artist is trying to work out from under, it's still a highly compelling story.

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