The London-based Japanese quartet Bo Ningen (it translates roughly as “stick men”) are renowned for their extreme, scorched-earth approach to live performance, but with their 2010 self-titled debut, they proved they could also deliver shock and awe on record. Increasingly, they’ve focused on the structural development of their songs, rather than replicating their in-the-moment, on-stage ferocity; consequently, their third album pays close attention to build/sustain/release patterns, tonal balance and the dynamic interplay between density and open space.
Singer and bassist Taigen’s admiration of Steve Reich has played its part, but there’s nothing here that smacks of academic exercise and, despite their membership of the freeform, psychedelic rock fraternity and obvious love of the deep motorik groove, Bo Ningen are absolutely not a “jam band.” Thrills abound in their battery of controlled eruptions, as they corral occasional quasi-hardcore workouts (as on “Psychedelic Misemono Goya [Reprise]” and “Kaifuku”), cartwheeling drum patterns (“Mitsume”), see-sawing guitar curlicues (“Mukaeni Ikenai”) and primal shrieking (pretty much everywhere) into service. Savages vocalist Jehnny Beth ups the anxiety ante on the steadily accelerating “CC,” but bliss-pop relief is provided by an oceanic “Ogosokana Ao.”
“Mature” is the most dubious of plaudits, but with III, Bo Ningen are very much sharpening their aim, rather than changing their target.