“This album is an attempt to present that complexity (history as open structure) in the simple form of a rock band,” says guitarist/synth player Kohhei Matsuda, “or more precisely: it is a rock band questioning itself as to what it could be in this time of bedroom producers, alternative R&B, and modern hip-hop. If this apparent history of music has its root somewhere, and that root leads to this present moment when rock bands are being pushed aside, we thought we could dig deep enough to the root, and re-write the present. We wanted to find a new path to follow an alternative history as a rock band.”
Perhaps a big problem with statements like this, and music that experiments seemingly for the sake of experimentation, is that all too often there’s a tendency to disappear up its own arse, coming across as utterly pretentious waffle. It’s a trap that London based alternative rock collective Bo Ningen (meaning Stick Man, in Japanese) certainly do their best to avoid despite their approach to writing being very much everything and the kitchen sink. In the case of their latest offering Sudden Fictions, this is including a glitch pedal, a 1920s drum kit and recording the album across the world in several different studios and countries.
The album sputters into life with the halting, stuttering ‘You Make A Mark Like A Calf Branding’. In true Bo Ningen fashion, arrhythmic drumming and spoken word before a retro-sounding synth glides in just before the two minute mark; more straightforward bass licks open following songs ‘AKA’ and ‘Silenced’ though the former is all staccato patterns while the bass and cymbal intro for ‘Silenced’ belies its movement into tom fills and repetitive ascending guitar patterns, accompanied by whispered vocals that swirl around each other as the song crescendos. Perhaps the most ordinary (and I use the word loosely) track on here is ‘Minimal’, featuring guest vocals from Bobby Gillespie (Primal Scream), making use of more regular time signatures albeit with swirling, reverb-drenched guitar scales. ‘Kyutai’ is all reverb, chilled drumming and fuzzy guitars, a calm amongst the experimental storm that still makes plenty use of the various disparate time periods the band draw from, from 2000s New York noise rock to Miles Davis’ steer toward electric in the 1960s while ‘Kuzurenai’ slows things down again with a pulsing synth heartbeat, lazily ebbing and flowing around stabs of bluesy brass.
Sudden Fictions, then, is a study in unbridled experimentation, fusing as many musical histories and textures as the band could collectively get their hands on, an album that sounds like absolutely nothing else out there yet with clearly identifiable elements like the aforementioned noise rock and free-flowing jazz. It’s a challenging listen without being too confrontational, one that looks to rewrite the rulebook seemingly by simply throwing the whole lot out and starting again. This won’t be for everyone - but that’s exactly the point and for those that want rock to push boundaries and challenge expectations, this album is definitely for you.