The Japanese psych rockers get more tuneful, but still sound bonkers
Bo Ningen’s self-titled 2010 debut album arrived like a lightning strike on a clear day. The London-based Japanese four-piece sounded genuinely unhinged, as you’d have to be to combine such improbable influences as ’70s prog-rock windbags King Crimson and Japanese ’90s noise terrorist Masonna (whose live performances were so extreme they often lasted one solitary minute). The resulting confrontational, psychedelic garage rock didn’t sound like anything else. However, four years on and after another album in the same vein, 2012’s ‘Line The Wall’, familiarity now robs Bo Ningen of that initial WTF impact.
Of course, Bo Ningen know this. To counteract it, they’ve loosened up a little on album three, describing the change in sound as adding “layers”. Most people will understand it as adding the kind of melodies you can hum, though not at the expense of the band’s usual sonic madness. Change comes like this: though frontman Taigen Kawabe still yelps like an infuriated chihuahua, notably on opening track ‘DaDaDa’, that song also marks the first time he’s sung in English. While the guitars still slip into gruntingly heavy Black Sabbath-style riffing at every opportunity – see ‘Inu’ – the flip side is that Bo Ningen have never written a song as understated as ‘Mukaeni Ikenai’ before. On it, a guitar meanders softly over a lazy bassline, while Taigen sings like he’s absent-mindedly talking to himself. It’s like a lullaby. The bass on ‘Ogosokana Ao’ pulses and throbs as sound effects waft about over the top, until Taigen slides in, barely noticable at first, and lifts things into a blessed-out reverie. Turns out Bo Ningen are as good at being quiet as they are at being noisy.
The only mis-step is ‘CC’, their two-fingered sonic salute to Crystal Castles, following a recent spat between the bands. A chaotic swirl of thrashing guitars, atonal noise and a guest vocal from Savages’ Jehnny Beth, it’s as interesting as listening to someone kick over a dustbin. Originally it was a rehearsal-room jam to let off steam, and that’s how it should have stayed.
That’s more of a niggle than a complaint, though. Bo Ningen have become more approachable without losing the ferocity and anything-goes attitude that made them so exciting in the first place.