Story of the Eye

Boredoms: Hurray for experimental Japanese noise rock!

Boredoms: Hurray for experimental Japanese noise rock!

I only saw Boredoms once, at First Avenue in the mid-'90s. Heavily endorsed by the likes of Kurt Cobain and Thurston Moore, signed to WEA in Japan and Reprise in the U.S., they'd already enjoyed a good deal more success than your average Japanese noise outfit—largely 'cause they weren't one. While cacophonous as Hell itself, the Osaka-based experimental punk rock troupe executed every lightning time signature and tempo change, every screech-and-chatter-filled breakdown in a set only a bit less eventful than World War II, with microscopic precision, unmitigated joy, and a theatricality tightly choreographed by manic elfin frontman Eye. (As he's been Yamatsuka Eye, Yamantaka Eye, Yamataka Eye, and just eYe since forming the band in 1986, we'll stick to his surname for simplicity's sake.)

Fast forward to late 2004. Back for the holidays, music writer (and City Pages contributor) Michaelangelo Matos hands me a burn of Seadrum/House of Sun, the band's first album of new material since 1999's Vision Creation Newsun. I'd kept a cursory ear on the band's evolution from rackety ADD-rockers to Krautish psychedelic blissmongers in the '90s, and tried to keep track of the personnel changes that found them with three drummers and (theoretically, at least) a new name—V8rdoms. Plus, Matos had mentioned Alice Coltrane during the course of raving about the album. Still, I was totally unprepared for what entered my earholes.

After an intro featuring jazzy, a cappella vocalese from the group's only other longtime member, Yoshimi P-We, opener "Seadrum" eases into a 6/8 percussion interlude that seems plenty driving before shifting into the denser, more propulsive 4/4 drumming that dominates most of the rest of the track. A piano enters the fray, on tiptoe at first, but soon firing off cascading arpeggios between riff salvos and massive chords. Alternately swooping and soaring, Yoshimi's vocals reappear. Entire layers of drum come and go, breaking down to a gentler reprise of the earlier 6/8 at one point, before the glorious mess surges back to full strength, ebbing and swelling again and again before finally subsiding in a recap of Yoshimi's opening gambit, only on piano.

According to legend, the track was recorded on a beach in Japan, with wooden platforms providing support for instruments. Ra knows, Eye's gone to great lengths for effect in the past. As a member of Hanatarash—a noise band if ever there was one—he allegedly once drove a bulldozer through the wall of a club, dissected a desiccated cat corpse on stage, and experimented with dynamite as performance pyromania (hopefully, this didn't all happen at the same venue). But that was more than 20 years ago—before his current band, before a slew of side projects (including a stint in kindred spirit John Zorn's Naked City), and before a change of obsession that found him abandoning the focus of 1988's Anal by Anal EP (as well as any number of subsequent songs) in favor of a substantially more solar circle.

"House of Sun" would reek of heliocentricity even without a title. A drumless (nobody in Boredoms plays just one instrument) drone, its billowy sitar washes elegantly marbled with guitar, electronics, and piano, the track provides more than enough light and warmth to make up for its lack of momentum. Sure, the band has mellowed. Kind of. But just as when I saw them more than a decade ago, Boredoms are remarkably popular for a band so relentlessly idiosyncratic, and it's not just 'cause they're like a cross between Can in their prime and Alice Coltrane in hers. Whenever they have at their instruments, it seems they run the risk of getting seriously inspired. And nothing is more infectious than inspiration—except for maybe joy. And Eye's ever-changing brainchild radiates more of that now than ever.