Osaka’s Boredoms may have more fans among those who are performers themselves than among those who aren’t. They’re best known in the US for their acrobatic freakouts on 1995’s Lollapalooza tour, and for leader/vocalist Yamantaka Eye’s mike-mangling screeches on Naked City’s first album. Members of Boredoms have also collaborated with Sonic Youth, Ween, and the Flaming Lips, and the Eye-designed package for Beck’s Midnite Vultures (Geffen) was originally used for Shock City Shockers (Shock City), a compilation of Boredoms side projects and friends. Over the last 15 years or so, they’ve gone from wild-eyed spazzfests like Soul Discharge (Shimmy-disc), which dismembered rock conventions and stapled them back together inside out, to a set of new releases that actually approximate dance music.
The last few months have seen three CDs in the Rebore series — 45-minute DJ megamixes of Boredoms’ back catalogue by superstar remixers (all on A.K.A./WEA Japan). The first, by U.N.K.L.E., is the least interesting — it library-pastes together repetitious passages from the band’s recent records without adding much beyond a little scratching and phasing. (“Super Roots 7,” a 1999 single that was a half-hour jam based on the Mekons’ “Where Were You,” turns up repeatedly.) There are some flashes of U.N.K.L.E.’s own sensibilities, but that mostly means hip-hop beats that don’t mesh too well with their surroundings.
Ken Ishii’s Rebore Volume 2, subtitled “Unidentified Freaked-up Outsteppers,” draws on the sloppy minimalist rhythms of Boredoms’ Super Roots 6 (Reprise) for a while but ends up being little more than a cleverer variation on the first volume. Volume 3, mixed by DJ Krush, sounds more like a DJ Krush record than a Boredoms record, and that’s a good thing — the grooves are often his own, and they illuminate the bits of Eye’s voice and the band’s mutant noises that he folds in for texture. He’s also clearly deeper into Boredoms’ back catalogue than the other remixers, borrowing screams and grunts from mid-’80s records like the Anal by Anal EP (Trans) and their insane US debut single, “Fuanteidai” (Public Bath). (There will soon be a Volume 0, remixed by Boredoms themselves.)
A couple of Boredoms offshoots have discovered grooves on their own. The band have always had side projects and spinoff outfits — more than 75 to date, including a collaboration with a four-month-old baby and a hardcore band called Destroy 2 whose set was 48 songs in 10 minutes. The most prominent Bore adjunct right now is drummer Yoshimi P-We’s four-woman band OOIOO, who recently toured the US; their second album, Feather Float (Birdman), just came out here. (A newer but similar disc, Green and Gold, is out in Japan.) Most of OOIOO’s songs are based on the motorik idea of ’70s bands like Kraftwerk and Neu!: a single rhythm and a single chord or vocal-harmony figure, around which other sounds gradually appear and disappear. On tour, they mostly played dense, lengthy guitar-bass-drums workouts; Feather Float, though, relies on springier, floppier sounds from acoustic instruments and their whooping voices. Meanwhile, Boredoms bassist Hilah and drummer E-da have a project called AOA, which is essentially Goa trance played with live instruments — long, acidic dance pulses whose timbre changes incrementally, like the tone of airbrushed paint. Their best album is Domegapeace, on the Japanese label Comma.
Both of those varieties of trance music, as well as the ecstatic sun worship that Eye introduced on 1998’s Super ae (Birdman), come together on Boredoms’ overwhelming Vision Creation Newsun, which has just come out domestically on Birdman. (It originally appeared in 1999 in Japan, as part of an ornate boxed set that included, among other things, a light-sensitive chip that croaked like a frog when you opened the box.) VCN has been called their “drum circle” record; I suppose that’s what you get when you’ve got three full-time percussionists in a band, and they do indeed bliss out on the bongos occasionally. A related single, “Sunsidal Cendencies” (WEA Japan), includes a 25-minute drum jam credited to a side project called “Uoredoms.”
Mostly, though, the drums are the elephants trampling a path ahead for Boredoms’ rock hordes to attack — the album comes across less as songs than as waves, each melody and rhythm and chant sneaking underneath the one before it until it bursts like a Roman candle. (That’s “chant,” not “lyric.” For a band known for unmistakable vocals and elaborate multilingual puns, they’re not big on actual lyrics — the only identifiable words this time are the album’s title and something about insects and animals.) The peaks come in the middle of songs, not at their end, and the breakdowns maintain the buzz from the high points. It works the same way as a good DJ mix, and like DJs, Boredoms use repetition to suspend time. They’ll build up to a particularly evocative synthesizer texture or roaring riff and then let it roll, over and over, until you can experience it only in the brilliant moment, without thinking of where it’s been or where it might be going.