Last summer, Boris barrelled into the beautifully unnerving NO, their generally speedy tribute to the first wave of Japanese hardcore. The album, however, ended with a genre-shifting, cotton cloud drone called “Interlude”. Considering the prolific pace the Japanese trio have kept up since forming in the early ‘90s, it’d have been fair to assume that this was a hint that the group had more music on the way. When don’t they, really? Fulfilling the promise, Boris have now returned to usher off this twisted, challenging year with 2R0I2P0, their latest full-length collaboration with Japanese noise king Merzbow.
On the surface, the prospect of mixing Merzbow’s psyche-shattering electronic terror and Boris’ bone-rattling riffage sounds like it’d be a most overwhelming, overdriven listen. But the abyss-like minimalism present on parts of 2002’s Megatone and the acoustic lushness to parts of 2005’s Sun Bake Snow Cave disproved those expectations early. With 2016’s experimental Gensho, you could either listen to Boris or Merzbow’s tracks separately, or stack them together to make a more immersive sound. 2R0I2P0 skips the choose-your-own-adventure angle, reintegrating both acts into one cohesive smear. Curiously, though not without precedent, a good deal of 2R0I2P0 finds Merzbow working fried sinewaves and distorted sounds above previously released Boris material. Much of it pulls from 2019’s Love & Evol. If you’re a devotee of either act, the fun is in hearing how Merzbow quakes through the material with his unique squelching.
Across ten tracks, the common thread is that everything has been given a gauzy, distant mix, though this succeeds in varying degrees. More often than not, it blunts both the crushing, detuned blows of Wata and Takeshi’s guitars and the circuit damage of Merzbow. The latest version of Love & Evol’s “Away From You,” for instance, sounds like a boombox blaring the master recoding was dropped into a tub of Vaseline—gorgeous, all the same, but alien.
A cover of Tokyo post-rock unit Coaltar of the Deepers’ “To The Beach” thrives in these soft-focus parameters, though, with Merzbow’s roil of weapons-grade screeching somehow folding ethereally around the track’s emo-gaze foundation. “Coma” comingles tube amp-driven and digitally ordained dronework. With “Uzume,” they imagine what it would be like to course Boris’ tom-tom rumbling original through your headphones while working a factory assembly line. It’s most damaged movement may be the white noise feedback, chopped-and-manipulated vocal effects, and damned gnarly bastones that fuel “Boris,” an on-the-nose cover of the Melvins song from which Boris got their name.
There’s a sense, however, that 2R0I2P0’s revisionism makes for a largely inessential addition to both Boris and Merzbow’s already sprawling discographies. That’s not to say it’s not enjoyable. You could even argue that one does not need to give themselves over completely to 2R0I2P0; considering its intentionally distant mix that may even be part of its charm. Calling something “background music” is generally thought to be an insult— a loathsome way to signify how the artist in question is unable to hold a listener’s full attention. But, realistically, sometimes music works better throughout your day as the dressing, not the main course. A distant clarion call you daze in and out of while walking through the compact-press foliage of a city street through the last weeks of fall; something to lightly bang your head along to while doing the dishes, the draining of a kitchen sink your own rhythmic contribution to Boris and Merzbow’s latest collaboration.
Boris explained in a press release that 2R0I2P0 acts as “a monument to the requiem of the previous era. From here, a new world begins again," in part addressing the conclusion of a miserable 2020. The statement also hints broadly at the nature of their ongoing partnership with Merzbow. A little further down the line, we’ll no doubt have a new body of Boris songs to contend with. Off in the distance, Merzbow will be mutating that bedrock for– or perhaps with— his own noisy gains.