Boris win some kind of award for truth in advertising with their album titles: Amplifier Worship, Rock Dream, and now Feedbacker. This is rock ‘n roll from Japan’s deepest underground live halls, drenched in (as the name implies) feedback, rattle-and-hum, and buzz. That’s buzz in all senses of the word “buzz” — both the drug-induced kind and what you get out of a guitar stack when it’s not grounded properly. Not that such a thing would be an impediment here, since the meters on the control board were probably pegged in the red for most of the recording session anyway.
Some history. Once upon a time, when dinosaurs walked the earth and I lived close enough to WFMU in New Jersey to hear their broadcasts the old-fashioned way, I got plenty of education from them into what constituted noise-rock at the time. For most folks, this sort of thing started and ended with Sonic Youth, but the rabbit hole went a lot deeper than that: To Live And Shave In L.A., F/i, and a great many others since buried and forgotten. Other people heard a wall of fuzz and garbage; I heard sonic exploration that primed me for Coltrane’s “Ascension” and Scriabin’s Final Mystery, and which in some ways had already been anticipated by the screeching crescendos of György Ligeti on the soundtrack of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Not long after that I made my big cultural leap across the Pacific Ocean and discovered two parallel streams of noise-rock innovation taking place in Japan. On the “rock” side, you had Keiji Haino and Fushitsusha, spearheading the whole spate of Psychedelic Speed Freaks on the PSF / Modern Music label as featured on discs like the Tokyo Flashback compilation series. Haino showed that crowd how just what you could get from a guitar, an amp, and maybe an effects pedal would be more than enough to accompany you on your journey to the end of the night. The endless revolving circus of players in the Acid Mothers Temple shoved acid rock into a starship and sent it on flights that went on for hours at a time, becoming tests of stamina for both player and listener alike.
On the “noise” side, you had ear-killing monstrosities like Hijokaidan and Hanatarash, whose (ab)use of conventional instruments was the barest possible pretense at being a “band” and whose real aim was to make the most ungodly racket imaginable. Back on this side of the ocean, though, the combined shadows of Black Sabbath and the noise underground had lengthened into stoner-, doom- and drone-metal. If the New York Times saw fit to talk about buzz-meisters Sunn O))) on their formerly staid pop-music pages, clearly something was up.
And now we have Boris, who skip and switch between any one of these approaches with the freedom of a bird shifting direction — although it’s never unclear that this bird’s flying south for the winter. Feedbacker, broken into five parts over the course of about 45 minutes, unfolds in a fairly predictable way: silence, smoldering build-up over waves of strum-and-drone, slow-motion stomp building to acid freakout, total walls of scree, and then a tapering conclusion. People who have already ventured into Acid Mothers or Haino territory will find this almost easy listening. Me, I’m holding out for the Boris / Merzbow collaboration that is supposed to be the best of both worlds.