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Boris and Merzbow: expecting the Unexpected in 2R0I2P0

Do you remember when you were a kid, playing an 8-bit game on a CRT television, and some inexplicable bug would summon a harsh array of digitized and artifacted tones and sounds? 

Or how about the discordant hisses of dial-up internet that we all recognize, even if we weren’t anywhere near old enough to remember it? That’s much like how the most austere moments of 2R0I2P0 sound — a clamouring storm of what should be horrendously unpleasant noise. Yet despite this, the album is absolutely captivating. 

A tantalizing mix of unrelenting noise, dramatic vocals, and cutting instrumentals, Boris and Merzbow’s latest collaboration creates a harsh divide between its calmest and most unrelenting moments, yet it has an inexplicable ability to merge the two together seamlessly. 

Previously, the two both found underground success in their solo careers, with Japanese rock band Boris gaining popularity for their experimental sound and innovative approaches to song and album writing, and Japanese noise artist Merzbow finding a cult following for his harsh, abrasive and conceptual albums. 2R0I2P0 is the fifth collaboration between the two, following 2016's Gensho and 2011's Klatter. 

While one wouldn’t expect this album to work on paper, the duo brings to the table the same innovative and hauntingly clever sound that their collaborations have become known for, continuing their fantastic, if chaotic, track record. 

As the opening track “Away From You” begins, an abrasive yet coordinated mixture sets the stage — mellow guitar, suspended in space by ambient rattles and echoes, evoking an almost tropical sound which evolves into the slow drones and soft instrumentals that set up “To The Beach”. 

The textured, calculated sound that defines the album feels just as close to smashing a guitar as it does playing it. This carries through the tracks “Coma” and “Love,” which are both ambient and almost intergalactic in their layering, creating a sadistic response to the melancholy layerings of drone and shoegaze. 

With all of this, the vocals take something of a backseat. Much like the two's previous projects, Gensho, the vocals serve as something of an accompaniment to the intense, swirling instrumentals at the forefront, constructing a narrative of precise noise, something which is made most clear in the buildup of “Absulotego” and the release of “Journey.” While it’s in no way an afterthought, the lyricism is nowhere near front and center. 

The mixture of Japanese and English vocals evokes more tone and presence than any lyric could. The contrast between the vocalists’ calm, confident tones and Merzbow’s enveloping static — most prominent in “Evol," the album's longest track — reflects a deep emotion closest to how many of us feel amid the sheer chaos of modern life. As it feels to many of us like the world will burn down at any moment, we’re left to sit calmly in our homes and wait for it all to pass by, and quite often, the art of these times is the most poignant. 

Ultimately, 2R0I2P0 not only presents a bold and unforgiving experiment in sound, but speaks plainly and without words to the collective experience of the world. 

As time moves forward, Merzbow’s raw and chaotic sound feels more and more at home in the endless absurdity of modern life. And more than just a recognition of it, the album seems to actively celebrate it, reveling in the strangeness and creating a response that calls back to it, just as loud. 

The message is clear, even in the album’s scrambled title: RIP 2020.

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Review: 8.5/10