The Boredoms: The Side Projects
hough the Boredoms have been prolific, members have still found time to worm their way into other projects. Eye has guested on projects with John Zorn and released his own solo work; Yoshimi has had her own alt-cover girl status with the robust OOIOO. Because the Boredoms story wouldn’t be complete without it, here’s a survey of some of the most interesting or worthy Bore-related projects.
DJ Pica Pica Pica, Planetary Natural Love Gas Webbin’ 199999 (1999)
Eye’s DJ album begins playfully: a whizzz of rolling tape, the click-hum of a toy banjo, the sploosh of tide drinking itself, chattering teeth spouting uneven syllables, and yes, the babbling laughter of youngsters. Then, a breakbeat launches. Eye amuses us, emptying his bag; as if to prove his love for sounds, he will try to include all of them.
For 70 minutes he remains confidently distracted. Genres fall prey to his overarching imagination, but the journey may be taxing for the listener—you can’t dance to it for more than a few minutes at a time, and it’s not easy to think while it’s playing. He puts crescendos above hooks or textures: a chant follows an arpeggio follows a bliss-out. Selections cough, fall, and hatch anew. He’s trying to build something grand—an earthquake, maybe.
I shouldn’t imply that there aren’t lengthier diversions—most of all, the multi-layered, up-tempo tracks that sound like proto-Voordoms jams, albeit more chaotic, less organic, less powerful. Though drums dominate the album, there’s an ample selection of twinkles and neons. But the most salient sensory mode of the recording is environmental. Imagine a train in the distance, the town bells being played with spoons, and squirrels skydiving down the road (on track 2): DJing as cut-outs placed into relief.
My caveat regarding this infinite succession of Easter eggs nested within another is that it becomes numbing, not hot and exhausting and awesome like live Boredoms (or a first-rate DJ set). Only at its end, with an impressionistic and uncannily emotional juxtaposition, do we rediscover the album’s peculiar genius. The chimes and harp signaling the end of the Christmas Eve broadcast day; gospel thousands of miles off; the ship rocking in port, its barrel drums rolling around the cabin; each softly toppling the next like the wet waves that first marked our recess.
OOIOO, Feather Float (1998)
Some critics have characterized OOIOO, Yoshimi P-We’s all-girl experimental rock group, as merely watered-down followers of whatever the Boredoms are doing at the time. If this is true, it can only be so in a trivial fashion, as most of OOIOO’s work has come out during the Super Ae and Vision Creation Newsun era. While Feather Float may have a few VCN similarities (the opening “Be Sure to Loop” is a prime example), it’s at best an incomplete description of a group that places their energies away from Eye’s work. Tracks like “Jackson’s Club ‘Sunspot’” and “Ah Yeah!” contribute to a much more accurate casting of OOIOO as a playful, almost otherworldly conception of pop music. Feather Float draws upon an idealized picture of nature (note the colorful cover photo), hypnotic guitar riffs, tribal drumming, and harmonized female vocals to reach a place that may still exist in the same Bore-iverse, but comes from a whole other galaxy.
OOIOO, Gold And Green (2000)
Beginning with a rich layer of percussion, honking bass and trumpet, Gold and Green takes an earthier route than its high-flying predecessor Feather Float. Despite subtle differences, OOIOO retains its distinctive, elusive essence from some combination of female group vocals, imaginative drumming, and Yoshimi’s surprisingly organic riffing. “Mountain Book” is a messy, slow-rising chant that features guest appearances by Seiichi Yamamoto, Sean Lennon & Yuka Honda, and sounds like the whisperings of nymphs drawing adventurers into an enchanted forest, slowly rising to one of the band’s most powerful statements of abstract rock n’ roll yet recorded. Inspiring and majestic, Gold and Green sounds like it sprung from the rough ground and grew to be a three-hundred foot evergreen. Finally released in the US in 2005, five years after its Japanese release.
Sonic Youth & Yamatsuka Eye, TV Shit (1993)
This collaboration could produce nothing other than caustic results, especially considering that it came when Boredoms had just managed to land their farcical major-label deal a year earlier. Consists mostly of banging on drum-sets, harsh feedback, screaming, and music piped in from boomboxes, while the back cover ripped off a Stockhausen LP. Hearing four covers of Youth Brigade’s “No II” (which originally lasted one second and consisted of the word “No”) makes one wonder when the suits at Reprise began to realize the folly of their actions. Only nine-and-a-half minutes long, TV Shit could be considered the demented sidekick to the pop-worshipping Ciccone Youth Whitey Album, but mostly it is what it is: Thurston and Kim and Lee and Eye screaming “NO” for nine and a half minutes.
John Zorn, Naked City (1989)
Modern free-jazz legend, duck-call enthusiast, and commensurate Nipponophile Zorn had gotten to the Boredoms even before cool-ass Sonic Youth. Naked City was Zorn’s attempt to see what he could do “given the limitations of the simple sax, guitar, keyboard, bass, drums-format.” “Limitations,” is, in this case, Zorn’s way of calling a huge motherfucking shark “a fish”—the band’s lineup included the premier players of then’s downtown jazz scene. And, yelping gaily in the middle of it, Eye. This was, mind you, right around the release of Soul Discharge on Shimmy-Disc, so to find Eye amongst such pedigreed honkers would’ve been kind of surprising. But look! He’s Japanese! And he probably hasn’t even heard Arthur Doyle, but crap is he nuts. I’m not saying Eye’s inclusion was a Barnum-esque move on Zorn’s part; Eye has called Zorn a deep personal influence and collaborated with him on several occasions since. Furthermore, Eye really was a perfect vocalist for the band’s music, which sounds, to excuse a sturdy old maid of a simile, like a radio playing a different station every 15 seconds. Eye is, then, Casey Kasem in hell.
Naked City is worth a listen in its own right, but as far as a Boredoms side project goes, consider it a chance to hear a young Eye vocalizing out of the confines of his own band. Which, interestingly enough, sets him in favorable relief; free jazz isn’t everyone’s thing, but the technical precision of Naked City gives Eye a cleaner canvas to work on than he had on early Boredoms albums. It’s also hella entertaining to imagine him screaming mere inches from the face of Joey Baron.
Karera Musication, Ichi the Killer Soundtrack (2001)
Given their staggeringly prolific output both as the Boredoms proper and in various combinations and collaborations, it’s rather surprising that this is, to my knowledge, the only soundtrack to emerge from the group. Fortunately, it’s fairly substantial itself. Commissioned by notorious director Takashi Miike (Audition, Visitor Q) for his ultra-violent manga adaptation about a convoluted yakuza war that pits a insatiably sadomasochistic gang leader against the wimpy, weeping killer of the title, the soundtrack features Boredoms members Yamamoto Seiichi, Yoshimi P-we, ATR, and Hilah but not—surprise number two—Eye himself (although he is thanked in the credits). Surprise number three is that the music hardly matches the deranged bloodbath that takes place on screen in terms of intensity, coming off like a subdued and abstracted Vision Creation Newsun; perhaps the decision was made to let the film’s madmen wig out without competition from the soundtrack. Largely drum rustle, wordless vocals, and psychedelic studio trickery, with excursions into Bore-funk, cheese-jazz, and sludge-rock, the real killer here is a haunting, almost Morricone-esque trumpet theme worthy of both the showdown that takes place in the diegesis and the good ol’ days of soundtracks, when composers knew how to be dramatic without soaring strings and heavenly choirs.
Boredoms, Rebore Vol. 0 Vision Recreation by Eye (2001)
Yamatsuka Eye takes no more than a handful of samples from the Bores’ Vision Creation Newsun and stitches together a trace-rock masterwork. The band’s frontman remixes, stretches, scatters, and shouts through a bullhorn most of the album’s highs. Where VCN’s pantheistic awe feels childlike in every breath, the revision nearly hyperventilates to death. This Japan-only release is the “zero-volume,” and still the best of the four-volume Rebore series that had guest producers UNKLE, Ken Ishii, and DJ Krush each remix the Boredoms catalog.
With his Rebore, Eye sharpens VCN’s strengths. The original album was both praised for the tribal drum-circle rhythms that revived the past glories of krautrock, and criticized for being shallow, hippie fluff. Eye is simply content to stare at falling stars and listen to the village sing to the gods all night long. The immaculate opener, “7,” captures that moment by first having a flanged guitar riff fly to the stratosphere and back down to earth and up again; he then brings in a sample of tribal campfire chants, lazy guitar notes and a steady beat all rock the listener to sleep. The following “77” takes the sunlit-flickers of violin and kalimba from one of VCN‘s naked-through-the-streets moments and loops it for six minutes, while Eye sprints through a sis-boom-ba drum attack that builds to a jetliner’s growing wail until it dissolves and crashes into a thicket of hand-drums on “7777.” The album’s centerpiece is “777777,” a wave-tossed loop of acoustic guitar riffs that shades its eyes from the sun, and polyrhythms that dribble between stereo channels, making a prime headphone soundtrack for any January when the skies look like blotched photocopies. In short, it’s a reason for living.
Eye’s anarchic power-noise/found-sound/tape-manipulation project isn’t a side project, it’s where the Boredoms story begins. Loosely translated as “snot-nosed,” and incorporating many of the classic features of other early noise combos (destructive live shows, offensive song titles, a fascination with power tools), Hanatarash helped define the terrifying, violent frenzy of the Japanese noise underground alongside other legends like Merzbow. Early Boredoms records sound positively tame when one considers the brainscrambling electronic gunk, clatter, and howl captured on the clutch of records and cassettes young Eye and selected cohorts vomited up in the mid-80s. Hanatarash also employed the characteristic confrontational attitude of noise with gusto; there’s video of Eye throwing oil barrels into the audience on YouTube, their artwork for their contribution to an RRR cassette compilation reads “Eat shit noise music. Kill the all noise artists! We hate Whitehouse. Piss Off NWW. Asshole C93. Suck PTV. Fuck Coil. We love disco sound,” and in an infamous (unconfirmed) tale, Eye once drove a small backhoe into a venue they were to play in, virtually destroying it. He also allegedly cut-up a dead cat onstage and injured his own leg with a chainsaw (accidentally, but still). The myths might have to suffice, as tracking down these now-rare and sorely in need of a reissue albums might be tough; the reward, however, will be a half-burned, cock-eyed, gibbering mess bursting from your stereo.
By: Stylus Staff
Published on: 2006-10-26