Boris with Michio Kurihara - Rainbow (Pedal Records CD)
About a whiles back in time my left femur started acting up, which meant the world was due for a new Boris release. Shortly thereafter, "Rainbow" did indeed drop and we all rushed to flood the internet with e-commerce transactions to procure it. Actually I waited (for some reason) so it only came in pretty recently. I usually do buy all Boris releases on impulse, but I was particuarly excited about this one because it had gotten a lot of really great reviews and it also starred Michio Kurihara, he of White Heaven and the Stars and sometimes of Yura Yura Teikoku, Ghost and Damon & Naomi. Boris have already collaborated with Japanese sha-men Merzbow and Keiji Haino so I suppose a face-off with Kurihara was not totally unimaginable. Unlike both those collaborations however, "Rainbow" was not a free-form live improvisation. Quite the contrary in fact, this album consists of nine, well-written and thoroughly composed songs, more along the lines of what was accomplished on last year's "Altar" with Sunn O))). Of course, another album and another guest means another paradigm shift for the trio of Takeshi, Wata and Atsuo, and this one sees them tackling a more reflective, shoegazy approach albeit still infused with their trademark heavy metal thunder (and obviously augmented by Kurihara's blistering guitar work). Stylistically I'd say "Rainbow" is probably the middle-ground between 2004's "Mabuta No Ura" and 2005's "Pink", albeit heavily dosed with the psychedelic undercurrent found on the earlier "Feedbacker".
The most immediately arresting thing about "Rainbow" is how poppy it is - this is the best sixties album not made in the sixties, and without the slightest hint of irony, or idol worship, or revisionism, or pastiche, or any of that. The fact that "Rainbow" is so straight-forward might actually be the toughest obstacle for Boris fans to overcome, especially if they lean toward the band's more avant metal excursions. There are at least a few tracks on here that are simply great rock songs, if nothing else: opener "Rafflesia" builds on the epic-yet-restrained noise/shoegaze flares the band previously hinted at on cuts like "A Bao a Qu" and "Farewell"; "Starship Narrator" sounds like a blues/psych update from Atsuo's tailspin drumming and Takeshi's call-and-response verses down to Kurihara's sick, mind-splitting Lou Reed guitar throttle and "Sweet No. 1" is given over almost entirely to the same kind of white-hot bloody-finger soloing from the guest musician, as furious and as vital as you've ever heard from him. Some of the most rewarding moments from the album come on the more experimental tracks, like "Rainbow" where guitarist Wata takes the mic over a near-jazzy midnight moodpiece. Kurihara cuts into this one as well, stepping forward and delivering a soulful, wiry solo before fading into the back and handing centerstage over to Wata for the track's conclusion. "Fuzzy Reactor" is filled to the brim with cinematic bombast as the group makes full use of the studio to produce a dense, swirly bit of Eastern-tinged prog/krautrock while "My Rain" benefits from the same treatment, the entire gentle guitar instrumental built upon a looped backwards-running magnetic tape snapping. The album does lag a bit in the middle, with the back-to-back dramatics of "Shine" and "You Laughed Like a Water Mark" proving to be a bit too much for even me to stomach - the former features Takeshi doing his best pseudo-cathartic "giant release" wail alongside an uninspired take mostly from the bass and drums while "You Laughed Like a Water Mark" features a static blues beat and Takeshi's monotonous vocals in even more static form, although Kurihara does save a bit of grace for the track merely by showing up and doing his thing (and it's also the point in the album where you'll probably notice just how far ahead in the mix Kurihara's solos sound). The not-so-grand finale is "...And, I Want", a gentle little coda that sounds like it was transmitted on a PlaySkool radio and sounds all the better (and warmer) for it.
After the first time I heard "Rainbow" I wasn't at all entirely sure what to think and I still don't know if I do just now. There are definitely great moments on here that'll make it worthwhile for fans of either Boris or Michio Kurihara (or both), but on the whole the album strikes me a tad on the uneven side. Or maybe I was just overhyped by overzealous early word-of-mouth reviews. Nevertheless, you probably know already if you have to have this (they don't really make Boris fans casual, do they?) but I wouldn't yet venture it a crucial document in the group's ever-swelling discography. Maybe mid-rank for now, but I have the feeling I'm going to have to spend a lot more time with "Rainbow" before I really unravel it and see what it's all about.