There’s a point in Psychedelic Misemono Goya (reprise) where Taigen, Bo Ningen‘s lead singer, drops into English and asks “shall we dance?”. The inclination is to incredulously mouth at him: “Dance? Dance? Fucking dance? The drummer has just caved in my skull. The guitarists are now attempting to knot the exposed neurons. Dance? I can barely see anymore.”
Bo Ningen are quite something. And III their, yep, third album is quite something too. Made by four guys from Japan who now call London home, it’s a record where hair goes down to your waist, robes aren’t just for ceremonies and jam is not best with toast, but rather goes on in a studio for hours at a time.
Call it psychedelic if you like, but that sort of misses the point. Because as vast and as expansive as Bo Ningen get, and for the record they get pretty vast, and properly expansive, there’s always enough focus to prevent the album drifting off unchecked and the listener drifting off bored. It makes each listen giddily exciting. On the throbbing, menacing Slider you can also understand why they’ve formed such an affinity with Savages, an affinity which extends to lead singer Jehnny Beth turning up here.
They’re similar, but different: palette wise, where Savages are – brilliantly – stark and monochrome, Bo Ningen stain their songs with a rainbow of different shades. But both have this propensity for heavy, yet astonishingly lithe basslines, drummers who don’t just drum, but beat seven shades of crap out of you (in perfect time) and guitarists who seem to take special pleasure in making the guitar sound like they’re causing it some kind of horrific injury.
Indeed, each element of Bo Ningen could quite easily be described in terms which seem vaguely cartoonish. Drums pound, bass rumble thunderously, vocals yelp and guitars are often a twiddling filigree of intricate fretting. And yet, it’s not, well, wanky. There’s the distinct impression that all members of the band are good enough to warrant time in the spotlight.
So songs become exercises in one-upmanship. On CC, a blunt, brutalist thing that is probably the heaviest Bo Ningen get, Beth sings, Taigen screeches and the rest of the band take turns to hurl whatever it is they’ve got at you. The effect is extraordinary, the kind of frantic chaos that has to be perfectly organised to actually work.
As impressive as the exhibition of shredding and double-time kicks is, sticking it next to the dreamy Mukaeni Ikenai – the one where Bo Ningen roll over, stare at the clouds and point out that that one over there looks like a bear riding a unicycle – brings it home: there’s a lot going on on here.
DaDaDa rides in on a cavernous burble, sprouts spindly probing riffs before launching into a euphoric conclusion. Maki-Modoshi has about 14 time signatures, one of which could be Swans and sone of which could be a neolithic Black Sabbath covers band, while the surging Mitsume creates the same sort of wake as an aircraft taking off.
Without boundaries but with form, experimental and noisy but always totally listenable, III is one hell of a record. Psychedelic, maybe. Fantastic, most definitely.