The Boredoms could only have come out of Japan. Their all-encompassing enthusiasm for music, be it eardrum-scraping avant-garde noise or wild surf guitars, hippie-ish tribal drumming or mock-Balinese gamelan, makes their albums both tremendously exciting and a little nerve-racking: you never know what you’re going to get from one track to the next. Indeed, on their early releases, you didn’t know what you were going to get from one measure to the next. No wonder the group members were engaged in a mutual admiration society with cut ’n’ paste, jump-cut composer John Zorn.
The Super Roots series of EPs have been a sort of shadow discography, aimed primarily at Boredoms obsessives. All but the first were released only in Japan, others (like Super Roots 2, not included in this reissue program) were ultra-limited editions available only by mail order. In picking them up for domestic release at reasonable prices, Vice Recordings has nearly doubled the band’s U.S. catalog, an admirable gesture. But while each of these discs has moments of brilliance, none are more essential than the Boredoms’ major albums.
The original Super Roots featured four tracks in just under 20 minutes, and track four was nearly 2/3 of the total running time. The music jerks from one genre to the next at the whim of the players, but it’s not random; each section is well played, implying that every group member knew what was going to happen and was ready for it.
Super Roots 3, by contrast, featured one long (33 minutes) track of relentless, trance-inducing rock. The guitarists play a single metallic riff over and over, as the drummer goes wilder than Animal of the Muppets ever dared dream. But again, there’s a larger goal than merely hammering holes in the listener’s skull. The track’s title, “Hard Trance Away (Karaoke Of Cosmos)” indicates that the Boredoms are after transcendence through repetition. This recasts what might initially seem like a maddening musical idea as something almost meditative; and indeed, at a medium-low volume, it’s quite soothing in its way.
Super Roots 5 is another one-track special. This time, the piece is entitled “GO!!!!!” (punctuation in original). It starts quietly, with subtly altered muttering and gently humming sine waves, but don’t be fooled. By the five-minute mark, it’s erupted into a huge roar backed by endlessly crashing cymbals, and there’s an hour to go. This is a lease-breaking album strictly for those who genuinely bear their neighbors ill will. Beauty is in the ear of the behearer, but caveat emptor.
Super Roots 6 contains 17 tracks, the shortest coming in at just under a minute and the longest lasting a little over six. A variety of sounds are on offer, from bells and temple gongs to horns, female voices crooning and chanting, to electronic squelches and more rampaging percussion. Some of it sounds like the work of incredibly smart but musically untrained children, while some sounds like crude attempts at funk or faux-ethnic pastiche. All the tracks have numbers instead of names, though they’re not in order; “2,” “3” and “8” are the most rewarding.
Super Roots 7 and 8 are almost counterparts. Each EP features three tracks, versions of an original. The trio of takes on “7” making up Super Roots 7 go from spastic collages to drum-machine-driven, almost-danceable aggression and back. The three versions of “Jungle Taitei,” based on a cartoon theme song, that make up Super Roots 8 are occasionally laugh-out-loud bizarre as they carom from booming kick drum sounds to babbling voices to sampled imprecations in Japanese, but it’s only on the final track, “Jungle Taitei (Laugher Robot’s Hemp Mix By Yann Tomita),” that real beauty emerges. Angelic backup singers croon wordlessly as a somewhat jungle-like rhythm churns, the drums almost sounding like bubbles after being fed<