Boris - Smile
Southern Lord
Noise-Rock
8 songs (61:42)
Release year: 2008
Boris, Southern Lord
Reviewed by James

After being unusually inactive during 2007, Boris have returned with a bang with Smile. A little warning before I go on: I'm reviewing the Japanese version here (the version of the album the band intended), and haven't actually heard the version released to the rest of the world by Southern Lord yet, so don't be surprised if there are some discrepancies between my review and the version of the album you have. I first discovered Boris through their awe-inspiring collaboration with drone merchants Sunn O))), but Smile is my first proper venture into the bands' extensive back catalogue. However, even a novice like me knows that Boris are constantly changing their sound, from the drone of Absolutego and Flood to the ramshackle stoner rock of Pink. This time out, the band have added the influence of 70s Japanese noise terrorists Les Rallizes Denudes (and I do implore you to check them out, they were doing the whole 15-minute psych-rock freakout thing before the members of Boris were probably even born). There's still much of the balls-out rock of Pink, only now it's drenched in feedback. Indeed, the band even perform a cover of fellow 70s Japanese feedback junkies PYG's Hana, Taiyou, Ame (although fans will know the band already performed it on their Rock Dream collaboration with Merzbow).

The record opens up with Messeeji, built around a hypnotic tribal beat from drummer Atsuo. The band pile on more noise and distortion, rendering it almost unrecognizable in the middle, before dropping the feedback back out again. Oh, and there's a storming riff at the end too. BUZZ-IN is the first proper song here, and it's a storming stoner punk track, with rumbling bass, more thunderous drumming from Atsuo, and Takeshi yelling his head off. I suppose it's worth mentioning that this is the first Boris since Amplifier Worship with vocals all the way through, for those put off by lengthy instrumental excursions (though it's a bit worrying if you are, frankly). Before your hearing has time to recover, Hanate! starts battering your eardrums in much the same way, before turning into an almost pure noise track. Clearly the band's time spent with Merzbow has rubbed off on them, then.

Boris are known for their diversity, and they aren't afraid to take things in a lighter direction. The aforementioned Hana, Taiyou, Ame drifts out lazily from the speakers, enveloping the listener in a cocoon of 70s psychedelic rock (the band's use of vintage equipment and analogue recording techniques goes a long way in establishing a suitably authentic sound). It's a nice mellow respite, and a sincere tribute from the band to their influences. Perhaps the biggest excursion further afield here is Tonari No Sataan, almost a pure pop song, albeit one with a chainsaw and dentist drill noise symphony in the background. It even has a midsection that wouldn't look too out-of-place on a Flaming Lips album.

But of course, drone is where Boris made their name, and the last 30 minutes of the album are something far sparser and difficult. The two-part Kimi Wa Kasa O Sashiteita (well, I say “two-part”. The second track is untitled, but follows straight on and continues in much the same vein, and so is seen by most fans as the second part) is a mellow feedback trip that manages to be heavy without ever being harsh or abrasive. It also features Sunn O))) man Stephen O'Malley on guitar in the second part, for what it's worth.

Smile is diverse enough that any fan of experimental music will find something to love here. Those who can appreciate all it's many facets are definitely in for a treat. Of course, you're more likely to end up with the Southern Lord version assuming you don't live in Japan, but I've been reliably informed that it's not too far away from the version I'm reviewing here, bar the track order and some song-lengths. Excuse the dismal pun, but Boris will definitely put a smile on your face.

Killing Songs :
Too difficult to pick.
James quoted 87 / 100
Other albums by Boris that we have reviewed:
Boris - Absolutego reviewed by Goat and quoted 95 / 100
Boris - Pink reviewed by Adam and quoted 93 / 100
Boris - Amplifier Worship reviewed by Dee and quoted 77 / 100
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