You never know what you're going to get when you pick up a new Boris album, which is an ongoing joy with them. My last visit was their 2020 album NO, mostly punk in nature but with some stoner metal thrown in for good measure. This... well, this isn't, but it's hard to describe what it really is, because that depends on what aspects you focus on. If you focus on the instrumental aspect, as is likely on Drowning by Numbers, then it's experimental rock or experimental music with no genre mentioned. If you focus on the vocals, which are entirely provided by Wata this time out, then it's dream pop or shoegaze, because she remains soft and sweet throughout, whatever the band are doing behind her.
It's easier to explain what it isn't, because it's not remotely like NO except for the anomalous final track on that album, which I wondered about at the time because of its name. Who ends an album with an Interlude? Well, apparently Boris do and I can't help but wonder now if it was so named to point the way towards W. This isn't drone either, which is what I tend to think of when Boris's name comes up. There are points where feedback becomes a defining aspect, like on The Fallen, which is sort of industrial sludge, but this is a rare guitar piece, as much of the backdrop is electronic.
In fact, the closest comparison I can conjure up is Rickie Lee Jones's album Ghostyhead, especially on Drowning by Numbers, which isn't close what I might have expected to cite coming in. This one's decorated with sharper edges though, even when they're not as heavy as on The Fallen. And these edges are what define it the most. Because Wata's voice is so soft here, if the edges are primarily soft, then the effect is primarily dream pop, like on Beyond Good and Evil, but, the heavier these edges get, the more she fades into the background and that effect is lost.
I like this album, but it's an odd one, even for Boris's insanely varied back catalogue. Everything is contrast, with the levels adjusted song by song to achieve different effects. The vocals are sweet, but the backdrop is dissonant, whether it's sludge, industrial, electronic or even, on Old Projector, a sort of Coil-esque ambient take on surf, though it drifts into sludge later. Pieces of instrumental music like this one help make the album fascinating. It's never boring, even when you think that it kinda sorta should be.
It seems to me that it's an album to listen to and, if you have that sort of taste, appreciate, rather than one to dance to or journey with or rock out to. Even though it seems to be rock music, of some description, the effect feels more like what I get from a lot of contemporary classical. It's not that there aren't grooves here, because there are, but I found myself deconstructing them to find out what makes them tick, rather than sitting back and enjoying them. This is far more of an exercise in composition and construction than one in performance. Whether you dig it or not may depend on what you think about that last sentence.
And now I'm going to go and listen to Ghostyhead, because I haven't thought about that album in years. Thanks, Boris!