In Review: Bo Ningen - Sudden Fictions

The Japanese Londoners journey into the terra incognita on their latest record.
Posted: 25 June 2020 Words: Jono Coote

Over the course of her musings on the metaphysics of travel, Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost touches on the distinction between getting lost and losing oneself; the former a mistake, the latter a “Voluptuous surrender...utterly immersed in what is present so its surroundings fade away.” Bo Ningen are a band who have perfected the art of that voluptuous surrender; journeying deep into the terra incognita between not just genres but also art forms with their new album Sudden Fictions, and at the end of their wanderings finding themselves in a fruitful land. 

Guitarist Yuki Tsujii describes the new record as a “Departure from any kind of shallow, methodological, geographical, ethnical, or gender-constrained nature of musical characterisation that exists in our time.” To break from these constraints they have looked to their collective pasts, weaving together each member’s personal artistic influences drawn from across a range of forms. Bo Ningen translates as ‘Stick Men’ in English and, in the process of drawing together these personal influences and combining them, this third release can be seen as a true fleshing out of those crude lines. 

If you are already familiar with Bo Ningen then you’ll know that these multiple layers of meaning are nothing new; but you’ll also know that, however far they cloak their music in arcane sociological and art theory, the music itself is never allowed to become secondary; a finger is always kept on the pulse of a groove. This is made clear from the outset with the taut, angular sounds of ‘You Make a Mark Like a Calf Branding’. Syncopated vocals are delineated sharply against the beat, before a dreamy melody is grasped for – and reached – just as the song draws to a close. This careful construction of two different musical modes within one track is something that the band has always excelled at, showcasing an admirable range of influences within the confines of a three minute track. In ‘Silenced’, an Ennio Morricone style guitar motif slowly builds to a Pixies-esque denouement, probably the closest the band get to a specific artist’s influence with regards to the loud/quiet dichotomy of Frank Black’s crew. 

‘Minimal’, featuring Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie, is possibly the album’s one nod to mainstream accessibility; a danceable slice of pop-techno atypical of the band’s output which somehow makes perfect sense when placed on the album’s timeline next to the strange, atonal noise which opens ‘Kyutai’. For the majority of the album, melody and rhythm dance in and out of the experimental fog like moments of lucidity in a hallucinogenic dream. Sudden Fictions is an album that will find you picking up different qualities with each listen, and in fact, which requires repeated listens in order to truly understand what is being attempted. 

Bo Ningen are a band striking out into uncharted territory but, luckily for the listener, on Sudden Fictions they rarely find themselves lost. 

Sudden Fictions is out 26th June on Alcopop!

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