Musicians are always doing weird shit, and that’s especially true in the noise world. Whether bending over backwards to out-weird the other avant-garde by taking a weed-whacker to a guitar or making a field recording down at the local Western Sizzlin’, musicians are inclined to embrace the more bizarre aspects of productivity. Once the names “Boris” and “Merzbow” pop into the equation, you can also assume things are about to get loud to the point of “Hey now, kids. Shit’s a bit much, okay?” Their new collaborative release, Gensho, lives up to that expectation, if nothing else.
Merzbow and Boris, though, differ greatly in what you can expect beyond volume. You can always count on the godfather of noise to deliver screeching electronics and the auditory equivalent of chewing aluminum foil. Acquiring the taste for Merzbow is like reaching the highest echelon of welcome torment, a place where feedback and electronic dissonance are tantamount to birds chirping and children laughing. Boris, meanwhile, have made being predictably unpredictable the MO of their nearly 20-year career. They named themselves after a Melvins song, and have taken on that band’s prolificacy. Throughout that catalog, Boris have continually shown a versatility that, at best, is brilliantly executed. At worst, things gets messy.
Boris’ songs lose focus when they inhabit one musical extreme or another. That said, the pairing of these two extreme artists could only be limited to two outcomes: It will either fall under its own weight or cause the listener to fall under the weight of what the music accomplishes — and nothing in between.
So here we have Gensho. It’s not the first time this pairing has appeared on record. In fact, it’s the seventh. The record is also 30 minutes shy of being as long as The Godfather and somehow, inexplicably longer than the oppressive Swans epic The Seer. However, Gensho doesn’t allow for much variation, character development, key changes, note changes, or even much respite at all from the nonstop noise. That’s true unless, paradoxically, you’re playing it all at the same time.
Boris’ and Merzbow’s new music is presented separately, each relegated to its own record. Play their compositions on two separate media players, and your experience becomes enhanced. In fact, it becomes a tolerable experience as opposed to what could be compared to a half-functioning infant robot searching for its mother on Merzbow’s side and a directionless series of low-fuzzed riffs on Boris’ adaptations of their classic compositions. Together, though, the record works. Merzbow’s sound-strangling fills the gaps between Boris’ low and slow, bottom-dwelling riffs.
Take the idea of challenging the listener to its most literal level isn’t that revolutionary. Heck, Flaming Lips did something similar nearly two decades ago. Sure, it’s a gimmick, but if the payoff is good enough, that can be ignored. But Gensho doesn’t make up for needing to utilize two record players and carve out enough time to screen Dances With Wolves. Boris and Merzbow, in their own right, are reliably fascinating artists associated with heavy and experimental music, which is all the more reason that their selling point shouldn’t be anything less than the sound.
Essential Tracks: “Goloka Pt. 2”, “Vomitself”