It’s impossible to talk earnestly about emotional rock and roll music without walking into a minefield. Thanks to some of punk’s less hardcore descendants, emo has become a four letter word, synonymous with whiny vocals, petty teenage concerns, laughable melodrama, overwrought fashion, stupid hairstyles, the mall, unabashed trendiness, narcissism, self-importance, bedrooms, devastating text messages, and Hot Topic.
To even broach the subject of an aggressive music that has an emotional heft to it, one must prepare their parries, counterattacks and elucidations well ahead of time. One must be able to somehow create a solid mental distinction between their cultural offering and the prevailing body of candy-coated, mascara wearing sissy-but-loud rock and metal that currently holds sway over American adolescence. If one should fail or be too roundabout in their mission, they will simply be laughed out of the conversation and asked how much black nail polish costs at the CVS these days.
I once made the mistake of describing myself as “getting into the 90’s San Diego emo scene” to a coworker. He didn’t even have to be mean to crush me.
“Oh yeah? Is that what you are up to?” Was all he had to say to make me feel silly.
“I was talking about Drive Like Jehu! Antioch Arrow! Native Nod! Sonically similar acts like Unwound! City of Caterpillar!” I wanted to shout. But it was too late, he wouldn’t know those bands, and besides, the damage was done.
So it is with some caution that I write about the of the most goddamn rockin’ emotional thrill rides ever recorded, a powerful outburst of noisy longing and churning heartbreak that is almost without peer. The song? Just Abandoned My-Self, courtesy of Japanese sludge-doom metal band Boris, from their 2005 album Pink.
Indeed if anyone knows how to weaponize melodrama it is the Japanese, but here the plaintive wailings are underpinned by the unforgiving rumble of ROCK – a thundering, booming cacophony thick and viscous as lava, pouring from the speakers and delivering in their heavy substrate a panoply of tones, hidden melodies, subliminal transients and screeching guitar heroics. Boris demonstrate a sensibility of rock guitar – it’s capabilities for loudness, melodic effect, sensation of speed, layered rhythms, secret tonal relationships – comparable only to Sonic Youth. But unlike Sonic Youth, Boris don’t mind sounding like they care.
I’m not sure who is singing here, I’ve heard it’s the drummer. He howls, screams, yells with passion and purpose. His anguish is so universal that it matters little that he is singing in Japanese. There are background “whoa-a-ao” vocals that fit wonderfully into the prevailing ruckus. The straightforward rockin’ part of the song is only about six and-a-half minutes, the rest is noisy, overlapping guitar drones. I can only get through about twelve minutes in a sitting, but what a twelve minutes.
I have a friend who listened to Pink in completely, leaving off somewhere before this song. When he finally listened all the way through he knew why I had been telling him the first and last songs are the best. Just Abandoned My-Self is the last, and a sort of high water mark of something. The ingredients aren’t particularly unique – there are probably a lot of garage bands that sound like this. However there is something going on here, an edge of heavy metal, an emotional abandon, a sensibility of beauty and interplay in the roiling, distorting morass. This song will make you feel exuberantly alive and slightly depressed at the same time. Proof positive that raw emotion and heavy rock can synthesize into something dynamic and powerful. However, like lightning, this synergy cannot be created in a lab, it has to occur organically, and a band with enough sense and sensibility has to be there to fix it permanently. Boris were there, captured that lightning in a bottle, and for that we should be grateful.