BORIS WITH MICHIO KURIHARA

Rainbow

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(Drag City)

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Every Boris record is a journey to the center of the mind. What separates Rainbow is that it navigates the nervous system with psychoactive efficiency instead of strip-mining every cell in its path. The latest in a series of collaborative projects, including sessions with noise alchemist Merzbow and doom merchants Sunn O))), Rainbow teams the experi-metal trio with guitarist Michio Kurihara, best known for his tenure with fellow Japanese mindbenders Ghost. The pairing yields the most nuanced and vividly psychedelic Boris record to date, illuminating their monolithic darkness with beams of black light.

Rooted in the themes and traditions of vintage acid rock, Rainbow is a sculpted, often beautiful album that embraces atmosphere over assault. Although he earns second billing, Kurihara is the music's center of gravity—his wondrously physical guitar lends both scope and depth to Boris's oceanic noise even as he reins in their more extremist impulses. If previous Boris records were about release, then Rainbow hinges on restraint, which makes Kurihara's inevitable eruptions that much more visceral. His piercing solos rip through stoner-rock grooves like "Starship Narrator" and "You Laughed Like a Water Mark" like bolts of lightning.

But make no mistake—Rainbow is first and foremost a Boris record. By conceding pyrotechnic duties to Kurihara, the trio are freed to reinvent their formula yet again, immersing themselves in texture and mood to create a series of shadowy soundscapes that underline the album's distinct otherness. At the same time, Rainbow is profoundly human: Tracks including "Shine," "My Rain," and the title cut boast a tenderness previously absent from the sprawling Boris catalog. Its contrasts and contradictions add up to Boris's most approachable and rewarding album—a love tap from the hammer of the gods. JASON ANKENY

POLE

Steingarten

(~scape)

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The term dub immediately conjures images of tropical Jamaican climes; hazy breezes drifting through warm, late-night studio sessions; clouds of weed smoke; and massive analog sound systems. Which is what makes Pole—Berlin-based producer Stefan Betke—such an anomaly. Betke brings a Germanic chill to his laptop dub experiments, and never more so than on Steingarten, which features as its cover a digitally crisped and flattened photograph of the snow-frosted Bavarian fairy-tale castle Schloss Neuschwanstein.

Opening tracks "Warum" and "Winkelstreben" are possibly the least frozen tracks on the album, faintly evoking abstract islands with their synthesized animal calls, buried fuzz guitars, and swaying offbeats. But from "Sylvenstein" on in, things get cold. The song begins with an icy crackle, like snow crushed underfoot, and builds to include gusts of wind, halfhearted sirens, and hollowed-out snares. "Schöner Land" combines similar rushes of air with submerged electronic toms, bright digital drips, and mutating electric piano.

Betke famously took his alias from a Waldorf 4-Pole filter, an odd piece of studio gear that he dropped and broke in 1996. The damaged device no longer functioned properly, but instead produced odd noises that Betke found useful for making music. This filter formed the basis of his first four releases (the color-coded albums 1, 2, 3, and 4), but he's since ceased to rely as heavily on the fabled device, instead embracing less unusual technologies but no less distinct sounds.

"Achterbahn" follows a terrifically catchy three-note progression through a maze of buzzing, percussive elements, vocal snippets, and loose delays. "Düsseldorf" combines crystalline bell tones with hazy snaps, distant distorted guitar, and muted bass thumps. "Jungs" snowballs from skeletal rhythm and distorted stabs to a massive blanket of static.

Steingarten is not only a uniquely frostbitten and digital dub record, it's also Pole's most engaging effort to date, full of fragmented melodies and deceptively careful rhythms. ERIC GRANDY

BLACK REBEL MOTORCYCLE CLUB

Baby 81

(RCA/Island)

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No need to get excited, everybody... Black Rebel Motorcycle Club are on autopilot again. They stirred up an exciting couple months there, back in 2005 when Howl took just about all of us by surprise. A meditative set of acoustic blues and gospel, the record was probably a bad idea both commercially—it lacked any real singles—and from a career standpoint—aren't you supposed to wait till like your sixth album to do something that esoteric? But it worked, since its strong songs had the retro-rock trio from L.A. bucking conventional wisdom while exhibiting depth and sincerity, at least when it came to contemplations of war and redemption. Following this, Baby 81 proves to be a giant step backward. It's a lot louder, probably more fun to play in front of a crowd, but returns to the overdriven, blues-from-a-gun tone of BRMC's first two records, a visceral surface without much substance beneath. The gruff minor chord suspension that leads off "Took Out a Loan" blasts into double-time drumbeats that carry right through the parallel riffing in "Berlin" and "Weapon of Choice." As an opening trifecta, these are tight, decent songs, but as the album progresses, they grow interchangeable and unmemorable. A post-punk-by-numbers approach was forgivable in the trio's infancy, but after seeing their range on Howl, one can't help but feel let down here. Meanwhile, the extent of any lyrical message is little more than "Suicide is easy. What happened to the revolution?" What happened, indeed? Clumsy catchphrases delivered in Peter Hayes's bored monotone seem to suffice on this outing, and when the band does attempt something new—the lofty, comforting pop of "All You Do Is Talk"—it comes off like a half-baked Bryan Adams. JOHN VETTESE

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