Bo Ningen’s first album since 2014 comes accompanied by a schematic of its historical influences, spanning from Bach through King Crimson to DJ Rashad. The timeline is not limited to musical antecedents: it also takes in technological developments, such as the invention of the phonograph, and cultural icons from other media, including Duchamp, Fellini and Gabriel García Márquez.
This diagrammatic resource reveals the huge ambition of Sudden Fictions, but it’s also revealing in its omissions. Any timeline of such span and breadth is bound to be anything but comprehensive, so one is left with questions about its inclusions and its gaps. Why does it include Jim O’Rourke and not, say, JG Thirlwell; why Can but not Amon Düül?
Of course, any band will have influences common to many other artists, alongside its own particular musical spirit guides. Bo Ningen consists of four Japanese guys who met in London, so one might expect a number of Japanese influences. Indeed, Jim O’Rourke has been a resident of Japan for nearly 20 years, and in the years when Can were at the height of their powers they had a Japanese vocalist, Damo Suzuki. Influence is a mixture of the axiomatic and the very personal. It can weigh heavy on a band, but when used wisely it can also be a source of great artistic energy. One must remember that originality is not without its walls and limitations.
So it is with Sudden Fictions. It feels as though Bo Ningen are really pushing themselves throughout the album; it’s the subtlest yet most powerful record of their career to date, and while it does reach far into the past, while it nods to jazz, funk and electronic music, it also feels consistent and controlled. Having come about as a psychedelic noise band in the mid-2000s, their music a black hole of feedback and distortion that sucked all matter into its riffs, Bo Ningen sound as though they have become more outward-looking.
A guest vocal spot from Bobby Gillespie helps to add an element of groove to Minimal, but the presence of the Primal Scream singer surely signifies more than the lyrics he croons. Sudden Fictions might be Bo Ningen’s Screamadelica moment, the album in which they step outside of their comfort zone and experiment with vital musical styles of both the present and the past. Screamadelica might be absent from Bo Ningen’s timeline of influences but, in a way, its mood of reinvention permeates the album.
Another seminal album from 1991 is also absent yet present: My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless. It is invoked not just in the heavier guitar parts, but also in the closing track, Riff, which begins with a full minute in which we are left to take in a jittering synthetic beat. That beat is joined by spacey guitars and Taigen Kawabe’s falsetto, but it’s there, in some form, for the whole of the track – much like the breakbeat that underpins Soon, the final track on Loveless.
While the weight of bands like My Bloody Valentine is very much part of Sudden Fictions, Bo Ningen also show their capacity for lightness and space. You Make A Mark Like A Calf Branding is stripped-back post punk: all drums, minimalistic synths and nose-to-the-mic vocals. Kuzurenai is almost ambient, while AKA and Kyutai both ride on basslines that owe something to dub reggae. Sudden Fictions is an album of contrasts, then; and that’s also the case of the tracks that sound closest to their older material. Silenced and Zanzoku both thrive on the interplay between staccato and flow, as Kawabe’s rapidly delivered Japanese-language vocals puncture guitar parts that move like eddying rivers. And, as if they are rowing through rivers of time, Bo Ningen drive themselves towards the future while facing into the past.