By Jena Ardell
By Brian McManus
By Chaz Kangas
By Sound of the City
By Peter Gerstenzang
By Katherine Turman
By Chris Kornelis
By Brian McManus
Patience never used to be a Boredoms strong point. The Osaka scene's ringleaders were Ritalin candidates, half band and half tumbler troupe, leapfrogging and shrieking, undercutting anything foolish enough to stay the same for more than two seconds: punk attitude rolled into a spitball by frontman Yamatsuka Eye, and hurled over the wall of its aesthetic terminus. So the new Super ae pronounced, maybe, super Eye? is an ecstatic shock: seven extended, engulfing pieces, averaging just under 10 minutes apiece, built from chants, rock-trance rhythms, and extremist tapework, with a formal richness they've never come near before.
In retrospect, though, they've been building up to it for years, developing their new vocabulary of sounds on their series of limited-concept Super Roots discs: experiments in texture, single riffs sustained for half an hour, mutating clouds of noise, and minimal rhythmic études. Super ae is a total headphone record, a product of the mixing board at least as much as of conventional instruments. A lot of the real action is movement within the stereo field, and the guitar-bass-drums locomotion is informed by the syntax of machine errors. Eye will trap a shift of tone in a stuttering loop, abruptly skip forward as a way of getting out of a vamp, let chords morph out of digital decay. The cold, violent harmonics that open the album turn out to be Eye intercutting territory (a fanfare of sustained full-Bore chords) and map (the same, reduced to high-speed rewind noises). The old Boredoms sense of chaos puts in a brief appearance at the beginning of "Super Are You," with Eye making unhappy-badger noises over Antmusic drums, but soon enough he latches onto a single chord, stretches it out for a full minute, and uses its tone as a drone-base for a long, slow outer-space funeral march. And the album's signature move is the Eye-scream that gets phased and distorted into something else: a cough of guitar, or a sparking fuse for another quadruple-fortissimo explosion.
The other big change on aeis that Boredoms have turned their attention away from their old scatological fixation apparent from their 1986 debut EP Anal by Anal to 1994's Chocolate Synthesizer(another way of saying the same thing, yes?) and toward the sun. It appears in Eye's graphics (the stylized rising-sun icon that appears all over the packaging), in his liner notes where he thanks "everyone and the sun," in the cries of "shine!" that are the album's only intelligible English lyrics. Putting high concepts into practice is a Boredoms specialty: it's one thing to talk about wanting to get the feeling of children's play into your music, another to announce that the newest member of your band is a three-month-old baby (Super 77, pronounced "super nana"), and still another to release a single backed with said baby solo, as they have just done.
So they're not just paying lip service to the sun. They're reaching for the sublime, opening themselves up to prettiness and intimacy, maybe because their jokes about "ambient hardcore" have resolved themselves into Zen koans, or because they've succumbed to the Tantric bliss of the Krautrock they've always loved the chanting-and-hand-percussion of "Super You" and "Super Coming," in particular, suggest a tightened-up version of the hippie-commune jams on Amon Düüul's Psychedelic Underground. Their newfound devotional attitude may also have come from realizing they're not immortal anymore: drummer ATR has been seriously ill for awhile, and by the end of ae's two years of recording, he could only play hand percussion.
The centerpiece of the album, and the Boredoms' career highpoint, is "Super Going." It's their "Drill," their "You Made Me Realise," a single-song encapsulation of their aesthetic that goes on forever but doesn't seem long enough. The first person I played it for started crying; the second person sat there looking alarmed for a few minutes, then said, "It . . . sounds like the Who." A hymn to the sun and a ride into it, the song is 12 minutes long on the album and 17 on the single, and it does start out sounding a bit like the Who's "Underture," with grand, scintillating chords erupting like gasps. Then Eye and Yoshimi P-We's voices whisper "shine" at each other over and over, and a double-helix riff winds upward until it melts into a different shape and finally atomizes. On the album, it's followed by the robust chant "Super Coming"; the single winds back down instead with two billowy, elegiac synth tones alternating for four minutes, called "Super Punk," and marking the completion of Boredoms' metamorphosis. Now, even their serenity is shocking.