Cosmic Surfin'

Nonsensical Japanese noise legends get sunbaked, go up in incense smoke at the beach

Delirious though it may sound, I had a vision about this Boredoms piece while in the throes of sun poisoning suffered on the beach. Feverish and hallucinating newsprint, with visions of Yamatsuka Eye's natty dreads swaying, I could be soothed only by "House of Sun," like an aloe gel dripped directly on the brain and body. Never mind that in an unbaked state, the serpentine sitar loop that constitutes the entirety of the song's 20 minutes bores rather than bores in, or that Seadrum/House of Sun, the Boredoms' two-track fifth album to be released on a major label (and the first in a long-term deal with Vice/Atlantic) is their most monotonous album ever. It's intended, as Eye put it in The Wire: "There's something beautiful about it when you're utterly bored."

Shocka city shockers! Could Japan's sonic youth have embraced tedium? Started 18 years ago as a four-track recording project of Eye, Boredoms existed neighborly with fellow Osakans (and extreme noise tsunami- ers) Masonna and the Hijokaidan, but were nowhere near as destructive as Eye's previous group, the Hanatarashi, whose lore regales us with mini-diggers pulverizing club walls, broken glass, desiccated cats. Though named after the Buzzcocks song, the Boredoms as a band were more taken with West Coast hardcore's chaotic speed and iconography: the Germs' electric blue halo, Black Flag's four bars, even D.R.I.'s skankin' pedestrian still appear in their artwork.

Eye's recent Transplant Gallery showing featured "PUNK" scratched on pressure cookers and Wal-Mart bags; "Sunarchy" had two mohawk punks ascending toward a sun emblazoned with Anarchy's A; Black Flag-like ink drawings were credited to EYEmond Pettibon. To hear 1986's Anal by Analor 1990's Soul Dischargeis to hear punk's bluster gleefully lost in translation. Only the Butthole Surfers' poopy jokes and P-Funk's diapers remain intact after the Ginsu blades the group applied to all forms of recorded music. Cartoon splatters ensued, with ludicrous titles like "Born to Anal" and "J.B.Dick + Tinturner Pussy" sounding precisely as they scanned.

Sometimes they bore, but sometimes they bore in—sometimes until infinity.
photo: Junko Futagawa
Sometimes they bore, but sometimes they bore in—sometimes until infinity.

Cut to 1992: In the post-Nirvana frenzy, Boredoms somehow sign to WEA Japan, meaning Reprise stateside and an opening slot on Lollapalooza. They ascend to the vaulted lofts of NYC to collaborate with the Avant Gods: John Zorn, Sonic Youth, No-Neck Blues Band. Oh, and Ween. With a flummoxed major springing for it, their series of Super Roots releases indulged every interest: noisy toys (see #1, 2), monolith-riffing (3, 7), babble and beats (6, 8), and the very ascetic practice of infinite sustain (5).

Around the time the Boredoms were dropped here, the tentacular spread of Rootscame together. When Super Ae and Vision Creation Newsun finally made it overseas, they revealed a machine aimed heavenward on a ride half-autobahn, half-Fujiyama roller coaster. Or call it Black Flag Syndrome: longer hair, longer songs, longer guitar, the skate rat aesthetic increasingly turned stoned surfer mystic. While orchestrated by Eye, it was powered by guitarist Yama-Motor to run on ATR and Yoshimi's twin rhythmic tracks, the latter drummer untwisting Ikue Mori's DNA so as to run parallel with Neu!'s motorik kick.

And then? The Boredoms broke up. Or maybe just Yamamoto left, shattering his guitar at the climax of the Fuji Rock Festival in August of 1999, after what he deemed "the perfect set." Little was heard in the 21st century from the group, which now consists of three drummers and Eye and is known (in Japan at least) as Vyredoms (the raddest band name ever). Yoshimi fronted girl group OOIOO and had the Flaming Lips name an album after her. Eye spent his days in sun worship, or else spinning delirious trance sets as DJ Pica Pica Pica. There were rumors of a Fluxus-esque recording of drums played by ocean waves, which may be what the 23-minute "Seadrum" ultimately is.

Whether it's La Mer herself or washed-up tapes, "Seadrum" sounds open and expansive, much like their recent Bowery Ballroom show. Three drummers encircled the conduction of Eye, who surfed the percussive waves like a maestro amalgam of airport ramp agent, hardcore screamer, and Bugs Bunny, concocting a sound somewhere between perpetually peaking acid jazz and trancey, thunderous mantras (to either "SUUUUUUN," "SOOOOOOUND," or both). On disc, Yoshimi coos like Abbey Lincoln and transcends like Alice Coltrane. The pounding, indefatigable drums sound too fast and steady to be the languorous rhythms of the crashing tide, but the piano could be played by waterfall, all glissades down the black keys in a constant stream. It sounds beatific in paradise, or soundtracking vegan Thai cuisine and organic sunflower seed muffins. But what head would've predicted that spazzy Japanoize could turn into Zen meditation?

 
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