JAPANOISE: Expect everything from playful, two-minute experiments in tape manipulation to hard electro dance rock to free-form noise.
Nineteen ninety-nine’s Vision Creation Newsun (released by Birdman in 2001 in the US) was a fitting finale for the Japanese noise-rock band Boredoms, who after 13 years together went their separate ways when bassist Hira and guitarist Seiichi Yamamoto split. Although Boredoms frontman Yamatsuka Eye has since toured at the head of a drum-circle outfit called Voredoms, fans hoping for a proper Boredoms reunion have been out of luck. But lest hope fade entirely, Vice has re-released six entries in Boredoms’ Super Roots series of EPs that span the years 1993 to 1999. Like a goodie bag of avant-garde excursions, these discs cover everything from playful, two-minute experiments in tape manipulation to hard electro dance rock to free-form noise, and they depict a relentlessly creative group who never devolved into random experimentation. Through rain, sleet, snow, and long-term deals with both Warner Bros. Japan and Reprise, Boredoms maintained a focused sense of their own strange destiny.
The original 1993 Super Roots is a fair representative of their sound on the early releases Pop Tatari (1993) and Onanie Bomb Meets Sex Pistols (1994). It’s the strangest of the bunch. Dinks, boinks, yelps, and shrieks accompany surf-pop guitars without a riff to call home, and though it may be challenging, it’s all so goofy that the 14 tracks are likable in spite of themselves. “Pitch at Bunch on Itch,” with a loping bass line and hideous screams, is a hysterical 44 seconds of sound. “Super Roots” has a playful kids-in-the-sandbox charm, but it’s still about as weird as rock gets.
This introduction leaves you unprepared for the next two entries. (There is no Super Roots2 or 4.) Although Super Roots 3’s half-hour “Hard Trance Away (Karaoke of Cosmos)” boasts none of Boredoms’ characteristic electronic manipulation, its repetitive 4/4 guitar/bass/drum assault is an impressive exercise in streamlined sonic force. It’s the 64-minute “GO!!!!!,” the only track on Super Roots 5, that lays out a larger musical and intellectual plan. Cymbals, distorted guitars, and fuzzy organs build atop one another to form an immense wall that’s always on the verge of collapse. Like the pirate ship at a theme park, it swings heavily between tonality and abstract, roaring noise. This is not for everybody, but the sound is so warm and spacious that it’s not necessarily alienating. You could argue that Boredoms never topped this track.
A now-familiar brand of single-mindedness pervades the 17 meditative tracks of 1996’s Super Roots 6. There are moments that threaten to explode, and fans of dubstep will recognize a kind of razor-edged smile in the percussion. But Super Roots 6 is mostly a set-up for 1998’s spectacular Super Roots 7, a 20-minute cover of the Mekons’ “Where Were You?” Like Boredoms, the Mekons have been a prolific band with a cult following; and like Boredoms, they know good musical idea when they hear one, whether it’s a completely new sound or a single riff. “Where Were You?” is the latter, a three-minute, three-chord, glorious mess, and Boredoms channel its reverberating sprawl into a dance missile. The Mekons’ core riff is sliced and rearranged all kinds of ways, but the beat never falters, and by the time the song hunkers down, speeds up, and surges forward — about two thirds of the way through — it’s left both the Mekons and Boredoms behind.
Boredoms were about to turn into tranced-out nature prophets on Vision Creation Newsun, with its cymbal washes, acoustic guitars, and bird sounds. So Super Roots 7 feels like the catastrophic culmination of five years of work. By the time Super Roots 8 appeared, one year later, the good ship Boredoms had blasted off.