The Boredoms: Vision Creation Newsun
’m a drums man now. Didn’t used to be that way though. Back when I was younger I deemed drums a mere accessory, a necessary instrument that nonetheless had little bearing on the actual quality of a particular song. No, the guitar was what broke or made the deal, the chords and riffs and most of all the solos that separated Hendrix and the Allmans and Neil Young and the Smashing Pumpkins from all of rock’s also-rans. Suffice to say, at this point I hadn’t been exposed to very much James Brown, Can, or Parliament.
In more recent years, however, I have listened often and deeply to those artists and countless others who brought rhythm to the forefront and gave grooves a stunning authority. I’ve heard enough bad drumming to know how it can ruin a song (Meg White’s gimmicky ineptitude, the leaden bashing that marred parts of My Morning Jacket’s It Still Moves). I champion hip-hop producers like Just Blaze and Rich Harrison who put explosive drums prominently in their mixes while occasionally deriding the likes of Danger Mouse and 9th Wonder for their thinner, less substantial sounds. Whole genres—funk, dance, Afrobeat—that ten years ago I’d have ignored now feel like vastly satisfying universes thanks to my acceptance of the primacy of the drum.
Vision Creation Newsun is another album that likely would have left me nonplussed. Now, however, I can hear it for what it is: a remarkable rhythmic achievement. Of course, its authors are the Boredoms, a band who became famous and infamous for a great many things that have very little to do with this album or even its sound in general. This is my first Boredoms album, but I’m at least smart enough to know these guys did a whole bunch of radical and unconventional and exciting things in the 80s and 90s, and just because this album was first issued in Japan in 1999 and mines similar territory as Ghost and Oneida, I won’t be dumb enough to accuse them of unoriginality.
My colleague Alfred Soto and I are attempting to synthesize our first thoughts on the Boredoms based on a single album from their multifarious catalogue, which is a bit like looking through a peephole at a gigantic mural three inches away and then trying to describe how the whole things looks. Suffice to say, I won’t draw any overarching conclusions about the Boredoms or their legacy based on this isolated sampling, but I can tell you I was greatly entranced by the furious moments and mad, sustained grooves of this one particular album.
Much to my current delight, there’s a wealth of powerful, expressive, physical drumming here, which isn’t at the service of any other instrument but rather compels the action from the jump. On the blistering second track “(Star)”—the songs are all titled with symbols rather than words so I’m just going by their closest verbal representation—the contrast between the slow, expansive shift of feedback and the murderous pace of the drums is satisfyingly mind-fucking, at least until the groove dissolves into chopped-up noise punctuated by warning-signal synths.
That willful slice-and-dice approach reappears on “(tilde),” but here it’s at the behest of calming synth tones and folky acoustic picking, which may invite comparisons with Four Tet but doesn’t play to the band’s seismic strengths. Certainly the delicate ascending tones of “(Heart)” are acceptable, but only because they ultimately give way to brutalizing drums.
When the Boredoms truly lock in, however, it’s a thing of beauty. “(Spiral)” starts out with congas and shredding effects but quickly tightens up, adding a pulsating bass and then unleashing a fat-bottomed stomp that beats stoner metal at its own game. And even that lurch can’t quite compete with “(arrow up),” which boasts the deepest and most violent bass groove of the entire album.
Like most people, I’m biographically more familiar with the Boredoms as troublemaking noise mavens, so I understand using VCN as my gateway is kind of like taking St. Anger as my window into Metallica in terms of missing a group’s great historical moment. The difference, of course, is that 14 years into their recording career the Boredoms still sounded tremendously vital, and while I plan to investigate their more notorious early stuff at some point, right now I think I’ll spend some time with the eight minute grooves and waves upon waves of gloriously battering drums.