The release of Heavy Rocks and Attention Please initially has all the signs of rock ‘n’ roll excess. What kind of band releases two albums on the same day? Overblown metal bands like Guns ‘N Roses, that’s who. Then there’s the self-referential title of Heavy Rocks which takes the name of a 2002 Boris album. On the surface of it, you could be forgiven in thinking that Boris is indulging in an elaborate joke. Dig a little deeper however and there’s quality to be found across both of these albums, albeit in divergent forms.
Heavy Rocks is, as the title suggests, the heavier of the two albums. Despite the grandiose statement made by releasing two albums on one day, it’s not the car crash metal album that might be expected. Over the course of 10 songs and 50-odd minutes Boris cut a dash a set of heavy sub-genres, grabbing what they need and making off in a rumbling assault vehicle.
The opening grind of Riot Sugar features the vocal talents of The Cult‘s Ian Astbury, but it’s the grinding riffage that drives the whole shebang along – emulating Melvins at their most oppressive. Elsewhere there’s nods to the searing fretwork of J Mascis on Leak -Truth,yesnoyesnoyes-, an otherwise unassuming song that smoulders gently before exploding into scorching solos. Minor Threat get a reworking in the neck-breaking blast of Galaxians, while late ’80s thrash metal gets a look in as Czechoslovakia brings the album to a close.
Missing Pieces and Aileron are almost certainly the finest moments to be found on Heavy Rocks, both glacially slow and full to the brim with melancholy. The former echoes the post-rock netherworlds explored by the likes of Alcest, awash with ambient moods and introspective vocals finally dissolving into a rumble of feedback and noise. Aileron features Isis‘ vocalist Aaron Turner contributing to a song that could have featured on any of his band’s albums. It’s a pulsing grind that is executed absolutely perfectly.
Curiously, Aileron features on Attention Please too, albeit as an instrumental acoustic guitar track. In total contrast to the 13 minute epic found on Heavy Rocks, it’s a brief but melodic mood piece over all too soon. In the context of Attention Please, it becomes a soothing interlude in an album that takes Boris in yet another different direction.
While Heavy Rocks toys with various forms of rock, Attention Please casts its gaze over an array of more subtle styles. The title track finds the band in the smoky, dimly lit clubs occupied by Tricky and Massive Attack, with Wata’s ghostly vocals drifting across an occasionally unnerving soundscape.
While many are proclaiming Attention Please to be Boris’ “pop” album, the truth is considerably more complex than that. It’s not as heavy as much of their earlier work, but the likes of Hope (an inspired mix of shoegaze and accelerated motorik beats) or Les Paul Custom ’86 (a dirty, lo-fi rock song that mixes Sneaker Pimps with elements of The Fall circa The Infotainment Scan) suggest possess a pleasingly dark side. Likewise the experimental collision of electronica and searing guitar collage that is Tokyo Wonder Land or the rattling mechanics of See You Next Week are about as far away from pop as it is possible to get.
That said, there are deviations towards a lighter palette. Party Boy is a fabulous amalgam of disco rhythms, rumbling bass and catchy vocal lines while the brisk alt-rock of Spoon takes things off in yet another direction taking its cue from the likes of Pixies and early Veruca Salt.
Attention Please and Heavy Rocks are two very different albums, both worthy of plaudits. It’s frankly impossible to judge one against the other – Heavy Rocks is much more straight forward and direct and succeeds on its own terms. Attention Please is far more experimental, and perhaps holds more interest in the long term in that the band is pushing themselves into uncharted territory. However, both albums are an extension of Boris’ fine body of work to date.