Bo Ningen - III
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Bands are on the way out, they tell us. Even a quick glance at any of the tastemakers lists of up and coming acts will show a heavy bias in favour of solo acts and duos, with your classic guitar-bass-drums line-up barely getting a look in. Whilst the reasons for this are no doubt varied and complex, ask yourselves this. When did you last see a band that looked and behaved like "a band", like they were in a gang and it was the only thing that mattered to them? You could argue that Savages, whose Jehnny Beth makes a cameo on this album, are one, and Bo Ningen are very definitely another.
Bo Ningen have always had an air of alluring mystery and weirdness about them, as anyone that has ever witnessed them getting ready to come on stage will testify. The robes, the androgyny, the bare feet and the jet black chest-length hair all add to the band's overall charisma. They look like a band that you are going to pay attention to, even before they have played a note. The music, of course, fits perfectly with the image and seven years and three full length albums on from their early noise-based jams they have refined and re-energized their unique approach to noise-rock with III. It's not punk, acid-rock, shoegaze or metal, instead it's a stranger hybrid of all of these and more. Now that "psych" has come to define garage bands reinventing the music of the past, they don't sit well with that tag either. Bo Ningen are about as futuristic a rock band as you could imagine.
Taigen (vocals /bass), Yuki (guitar), Kohhei (guitar), and Mon Chan (drums) are all from different parts of Japan, but they met and decided to make music whilst living in London. Despite being settled in Dalston they still sing in Japanese - there were suggestions that some of this new album would be in English, but the English words are largely contributed by the guests (and previous collaborators) Jehnny from Savages and Roger from King Midas Sound. So once again the lyrics are fairly impenetrable, but it doesn't matter as Taigen's distinctive vocals are really a fifth instrument in the band.
They have used the same studio and personnel as they did for their second album Line the Wall, but it seems that the band are more confident and willing to push their sonic ambitions even further. The intense opening track 'DaDaDa' begins with Taigen's familiar whoops and shrieks before developing into a sweeping melody over a pounding rhythm.
The contrasting parts within their music are what make III a fascinating listen. 'Maki-Modoshi' sees some incredible playing from all four of the band, with the rhythm section just about winning the battle against an alarming noise part that threatens to overwhelm the song. On the deceptively delicate 'Mitsume' insistent drumming sits well with washes of feedback rising over chorusing guitars. Their use of a wall of sound never seems gratuitous or lazy, instead it makes this song into something more special. 'CC' is a manic duet, with English and Japanese voices duelling over a bed of speed riffs.
You can judge how the band have progressed on 'Psychedelic Misemono Goya (reprise)', which is a reworking of a tune from their debut EP, 2009's Koroshitai Kimoshi. The original saw them taking a basic lo-fi garage riff and breaking it apart. It was impressive but on this updated version they show a new maturity and the sympathetic production brings new depth and power to the song.
'Slider' is a colossal track and maybe the most accessible here. A second vocal acts as a kind of call-and-response between English and Japanese. Towards the end of this track they go into such a different gear that they almost run away with themselves but it all gels again and joins together beautifully.
It's not all noise though. 'Ogosokana' is downtempo and has a mostly whispered vocal, and comes across as more of a mood piece than a rock song, whilst 'Mukaeni Ikenai' is the longest track at nine minutes and is a lovely drifting, reflective piece. 'Kaifuku' ends the album on an epic, yet surprisingly less intense note.
Obviously Bo Ningen's music is not made for the masses, but if you are intrigued as to what a truly psych-rock act should sound like in 2014, you should give III your attention. It's a thrilling ride. When asked if their music was psychedelic the band stated cryptically, "Being 'psychedelic' means to us that stand quietly / loudly in the middle of interzone and stare at both sides at once."
Bo Ningen might be the only truly psychedelic gang in town. It is a pleasure to have them back.
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