Yet another full length album from Boris, inbetween all the limited vinyl splits & 7"s they churn out. Has it become a sad case of quantitly over quality? No. Boris are hugely consistent. They constantly deliver, album after album. However; they're so eclectic in style that you probably won't enjoy EVERYTHING they do. You see, if you didn't know already they operate under two personalities; BORIS (in upper case) do slow doom/drone stuff and boris (lower case) play faster, more punk influenced rock. This is most definitely a lower case album.
I'm not a huge fan of Boris' thrashy punk styled tracks and therefore I never really enjoyed Pink to it's fullest. However, with Smile they've added a bit more variation to the rocky stuff and they stand out a lot further than the barrage that Pink provided. Nothing here is quite as good as Ibitsu from Akuma No Uta though.
Strangely, Smile starts off with a cover of `Flower Sun Rain' by a Japanese band called Pyg. It's funnily enough quite melodic in the vocal department and an interesting lead off track. It starts off mellow, lo-fi and psychedelic. Somewhat surprisingly it never actually breaches into fast thrashing territory and stays quite relaxed and psychedelic over it's 7min running time which makes it one of the most enjoyable songs they've done in a while. Good starter.
Buzz-In and Laser Beam, as you'd expect could have come straight off Pink; fast, thrashy, fairly fun and enjoyable if not done to death by now. Statement is still a fast rocker but is far more dynamic and catchy than anything off Pink. Another great tune; good live too. The brief groovy breakdown riff is quality. Michio Kurihara features again on Smile as he did on Rainbow last year. Now, call me a traditionalist but I'm of the belief that a guitar should sound like a guitar rather than a wah-wahed dentist's drill. His noisy soloings do fare better here because of the general noise going on around them but I can honestly say I'm not a fan.
The next track; My Neighbour Satan, is where the album gets interesting. It's another psychedelic affair but like nothing I've heard; the vocals and clean guitar float over a really quiet lo-fi thrashy drum pattern & riff. It's weird and sounds confusing but it works very well indeed. The track erupts into traditional noisy Boris heaviness with a cracking groovy riff and goes back and forth between these phases. Another quality track.
You Were Holding An Umbrella, the penultimate song, actually begins with an electronic pulsing beat which compliments Wata's clean picking guitar melody and Takeshi's soft vocal perfectly. After this phase developing & evolving over a few minutes it progresses into a cathartic groovy solo jam section & back to quite an orthodox grooving rock beat. This is one of the best things Boris have treated us to in years. It almost blends everything they've done previously; it's psychedelic & cathartic (like Feedbacker's Phase II), it has that evil Orange amp tone of the thrashy Pink stuff and is pretty much inbetween the thrash & the doom tempos they usually play within. Great to hear, great tune.
The last Untitled 15min monster fades in from the end of ...Umbrella & carries on the hazy clean solo melody & ambient drone textures. This track epupts much the same as it's predecessor but is much heavier. Slow, doomy chords and expressive noisy soloing ensues in true Boris fashion underneath quite a catchy vocal refrain. Continue doomy chords and ebow acapella & fade out.
Boris' experimentation seems slightly willful and deliberate on the first half of Smile. The second track is a reversion to Pink-era Stooges worship which doesn't reach the heights of the best of that album, but works in Smile's context. Then we get a kind of War Pigs-esque introduction with streaking guitar soloing between heavy staccato riffing and then it's into another blown-out punkish song that gets mutated into a Merzbowian rampage briefly, complete with high speed stereo panning, a leitmotif of the album, before the song reasserts itself for a minute and then collapses back into a pit of feedback which peels back to reveal a lilting lullaby. Familiar from the recent collaboration with Merzbow Rock Dream, track 4 is the Pyg cover Flower Sun Rain, which is a beautiful song that Boris treats pretty reverently (I heard the original recently courtesy of the internet) but updates effectively with a classic soaring Wata (Boris' lady guitarist) solo and improved post-60s vocals (i.e. not waifish or feeble sounding). It ends nicely with a cappella harmonized singing. 'My Neighbour Satan', is marred somewhat by nasally, kind of emo vocals, but mixes things up with a liquid guitar sound that drips through the heavy riffing and more traditional rock drumming. The track takes three major dog-legs into bombastic, shoegazer territory twice and finally into a blistering hard core song after a false ending. No One Grieves Part 2, the best song from the Things Solomon Overlooked series of vinyl, reappears on 'Smile' with added vocals and minus a minute's worth of purling chords at the beginning. The vocals actually detract from the song, which is such a powerful, original artistic manifesto. Propulsive drumming wills things forward and one epic 7 minute solo screams above raging guitar distortion. Screams around the fifth minute buried low in the mix suggest a better arrangement than the one implemented which often submerges Wata's guitar madness that elevates the song to the pantheon. Nonetheless a really wonderful piece.
The immense final two tracks atone for any shortcomings in the previous six. They are twenty eight minutes together. First dulcet, smoky reverberating clean guitar, understated drumming and quiet, sad singing ripple. Then a mesmeric guitar line wends through a mammoth, frozen riff and then a solo draws the song down in volume into an extended transition, arpeggios coil, and its back to the mesmeric guitar line and frozen riff for a long easing into the final song. This song is a Godspeed or Isis like glacially paced but entrancing post-rock goliath. The emotional color of the final suite is depressed, tragic. Boris probes the border of stasis and motion so effectively, so expertly that time dilation and contraction effects seem to be unavoidable when deep-listening to one of their long-form compositions. You know that things happen because the track sounds way way different at the end than at the beginning but parts stretch out for miles and slowly, deliberately bleed in and out of the mix. The last eight minutes is like Sunn covering Stars of the Lid and finishes the album off so nicely. Interlocking sheets of whirr and hiss, fat high-end tones oscillating nearly subliminally, a slow mournful and hypnotizing guitar lick somewhere under it all, binding everything together, everything dissolving ultimately into a deluge of static. (WMD)
For fans of: Boredoms, Isis, Godspeed You Black Emperor, Explosions in the Sky, Porcupine Tree, Monster Magnet, Tim Hecker, My Bloody Valentine
* note: order of tracks differs in this review. 'Smile' will be available as a 8 song CD or 10 song x2LP