Before I begin, I have to make a confession. It’s something that I have agonised over for days, tossing and turning for many sleepless nights. With a deep breath, here is it: Pink isn’t my favourite Boris album. I know it’s supposed to be their most acclaimed, adored by fans and critics alike (no mean feat). But I can’t help it. It’s all a bit too fast and upbeat for me, despite its experimental streak. Save for a few tracks like Farewell and My Machine, it’s peppy, rose-tinted even. I suppose the title suits it pretty well. For my money, though, Boris are at their best when they temper their experimentalism with slow and sombre songwriting.
On their latest album, Dear, Boris go well beyond sombre. This is the most introspective work I’ve heard from them. It’s sometimes heart-wrenchingly sad, sometimes powerful and rousing. Sure, it’s also a bit of a return to their heavier, droney style in places, as some critics have already observed. But I side here with the band when they say in their press release ‘We don’t feel comfortable calling Dear a return to our slow and heavy style… We’ve been heavy since day one.‘ You can’t really argue with that. To simply call Dear a return to heaviness is a disservice to the incredible range and emotion demonstrated on this album.
For a three-piece, Boris show mastery of a considerable range of textures and tones throughout Dear. Opener D.O.W.N. – Domination Of Waiting starts the album as you might expect – thick walls of loosely-structured drone hit you hard from the very start, Takeshi‘s vocals calling out in a primal, shamanic ritual. It’s a slow, powerful start that places, perhaps unusually for Boris, the human voice front and centre on the album. Sure, they’ve had plenty of singing on Pink and Heavy Rocks, but never as clear in the mix as here. In the sublime Biotope there’s not really much instrumentation at all. The whole song plays out over drone and hints of melody, a metronomic beat, and hollow, reverbed guitar. It has the hallmarks of shoegaze – repetition, subtle melody, dense atmosphere – but there’s no crescendo of blistering guitar. Instead, it’s just Takeshi softly repeating “I don’t care.” It’s a powerful example of the introspective nature of the album.
If it’s drone you’re looking for, there’s plenty here. The Power is a wandering guitar piece, reminiscent of Earth 2, punctuated here and there by sparse drums and synth noise. It builds tension and releases over and over, a disorientating exploration of the power (sorry) of good distortion. Unlike straight drone albums, however, Boris shift gear often between tracks (but rarely within a single track, which makes them all feel cohesive). Distopia – Vanishing Point is an emotional twelve-minute post-rock ballad that trades the usual crescendo for an incredibly beautiful psychedelic guitar solo.
The real gems on this album are Beyond and Momento Mori. Both are slow and melodic, using carefully layered harmonies and crescendos of doom that ebb and flow. Beyond also features one of Wata‘s best vocal performances since Neu Years on Boris‘ collaboration with Asobi Setsu, her whispered style making the track heavy with atmosphere.
Given the intended purpose of Dear when Boris began making it – a farewell to fans and what we must assume would be the death of the band – the track titles make perfect sense. But on these tracks Boris go beyond a lot of their earlier work by making the songs so raw with emotion, which renders their titles a little ironic. They seem to be waxing nostalgic on Dear (after all, the third track is called Absolutego, the name of their first ever release) and they balance the nostalgia perfectly with power. Far from being breaks in the heaviness, Dear ballads are so heavy because they feel like they have the weight of a thirty year career behind them.
With the incredible back-catalogue that Boris has amassed, calling one album their best work is an enormous statement. But I’ll stick my head above the parapet and say it: Dear is the best album Boris has ever written.
Scribed by: Will Beattie