Japanese power(ful) trio Boris is one of those bands that is constantly accused of nonstop musical shape-shifting. While I’m more likely to identify these shifts as different ways of investigating the same basic aesthetic, it’s pretty damn tricky to listen to a record like Amplifier Worship immediately followed by Pink and not grant those naysayers their point. Even given this musical restlessness, from the opening seconds of the album-opening title track, it should be abundantly clear to you, your neighbors, your cat, and even your damn cactus planter that Attention Please ain’t your grandfather’s Boris. What I’ve been saying is that one can argue your grandfather’s Boris was already a bit of a multiple personality mess, careening from massive drone to red-lined garage rock/stoner punk to cascading post-metal and Lord knows where else in between. Even if the smoother sounds presented on Attention Please are not entirely unprecedented (see Boris’s excellent collaboration with guitarist Michio Kurihara, Rainbow), c’mon: Attention Please is not just an entirely different creature, it’s a “what the shit just happened to me?” kind of creature. But oh, my my my, is it ever a sumptuous feast of sultry, nocturnal rock.
Because you see, above all else, Attention Please is about mood. The spare drumming and pulsating bass suggest the motorik drive of Krautrock, while the perfect amount of barely-perceived guitar psychedelia keeps things sounding, for lack of a better descriptor, eminently Japanese. Female guitarist Wata provides all the album’s lead vocals, singing in a straightforward whisper-croon that is never maudlin or affected, and the atmosphere evoked throughout the album is so perfect that you’ll find yourself not ever wanting to leave its entrancing folds of finely honed dark pop. Everything about this album is cool, dark, sleek, sexy, and almost impossible to listen to without conjuring up cinematic visions – think Michael Mann’s film Collateral, or, perhaps more aptly, Bill Murray’s bleary-eyed night-tourism in Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation. Much of the album sounds like a highway pile-up of the unrelenting forward motion of Kraftwerk and the gauzy sheen of prime 4AD. See in particular the wistful string-and-vocal unison melodies of “Hope,” where a bit of chunky riffing toward the end is a nice fake-out, threatening to go a little My Dying Bride before lapsing back into My Bloody Valentine.
The calmer moments of Attention Please occasionally call to mind the similarly contemplative moody psychedelics of fellow country-weirdos Ghost (not the Pope Diamond Ghost) or Acid Mothers Temple, but never in the full-on-Timothy-Leary-freakout kind of way. To put it rather cheekily: Boris is not in danger of becoming the Bore(is)doms. To use a phrase like “the calmer moments” suggests that there are some not-so-calm moments as well, and while that’s true, the overall mood swings across this disc are of a far more compressed range than on, say, Pink or Smile. Thus, there’s a chance that the first few times you spin the album, you could come away with the impression that the entire affair is nothing but a stylish whirl of little real substance or lasting impact.
But apart from the stellar atmosphere, this tasty album is also about the songs, which are mostly deceptively simple, but soon reveal deep hooks. The late night shimmy-psych of the title track is an obvious ear-worm, but it’s really on “Tokyo Wonder Land” where the Krautrock influence is most pronounced. “Spoon” gives drummer Atsuo the most to do, but it’s still an early 90s shoegazing rock style of minimalistic crash and pulse. “See You Next Week” is a moody, distant shuffle of noise, and serves as yet another example of the way that Wata’s vocal melodies are tossed off with just the right amount of lazy cool. Check out the halfway-glammy “Party Boy,” where Wata comes across like a go-go dancing Nico against those retro space-synth drum pads toward the song’s end. “You” is spooky and distant, gauzy vocals over soft-tap drumming and a slowly shifting psychedelic ambient backdrop. “Aileron” continues the meditative atmosphere, but is cut off rather abruptly by the short, scuzzy groove of “Les Paul Custom ’86,” which introduces a sinuous, muted garage rock riff and then rides a thick-ass bass drone across plains of funky static and sedate dual vocals from Wata and bassist Takeshi.
The simultaneously-released full-length Heavy Rocks is the daytime counterpart to Attention Please’s nighttime lurking, so where Heavy Rocks sprawls and freaks out and howls with funky, psych-riffy wooziness, Attention Please is music to slowly shake your hips. It’s music for the early-morning, half-remembered cab ride home through vacant and rain-vapored streets, and it’s music for the near-silent thrumming of high-speed trains, where the sleeping city etches a sine wave streak of soft orange light against the commuter windows. In short, where Heavy Rocks brings the righteous skronk, Attention Please is a shimmering pool of mercury, dripping with compact songwriting and piles of suave gestures to spare. Can you imagine how much greater the world would be if every single person who has become a retro dick lately because of Mad Men instead embraced the self-assured, undeniably sexy swagger that is barely contained within this little disc? Attention Please is a statement every bit as bold and quirky as any of Boris’s past stylistic about-faces, and it pays off gloriously. Listen to the gorgeous, hushed lilt of album closer “Hand in Hand,” with its chiming arpeggios and faintly screaming guitar squeals riding atop the sheen, and know that you are somewhere safe to sleep off last night’s squall. Then rise from the pavement with the quiet city’s steam.