Release Date: Jul 1, 2014
Record label: Thrill Jockey
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Post-Rock, Experimental Rock, Japanese Rock
Those of us already familiar with OOIOO - the experimental, experiential troupe led by Boredoms’ Yoshimi - will probably head into the group’s latest with an expectation of the unfamiliar. For the uninitiated there will be little more sonically alien than gamelan, the ancient, otherwordly, Javanese percussion that’s at the core of OOIOO’s Gamel, five years on from 2009’s Armonico Hewa and four years in the making. A steadily intensifying chanting eases the album in on “Don Ah”, becoming more pronounced until it’s joined by chiming gamelan bells which more or less punctuate the following hour.
The centuries-old Javanese and Balinese style gamelan is a crucial sonic and conceptual focal point for OOIOO, and on Gamel, it busts their sound wide open. The album’s still chock full of the band’s weird effects and liquid-noise production, but its beating heart is the interaction between gamelan metallophone and the human voice. This means newfound liveliness through liveness, in that much of the music is clearly derived from the improvised work of a live band, honed into weaving, interactive movements.
That Boredoms were able to advance from novel noise pranksters to vibrant musical wizards has much to do with the fluid and inventive drumming of Yoshimi P-We. Moonlighting as leader of the more tribal and kinetic OOIOO, Yoshimi has been able to further hone her unique style. On Gamel, album number seven (and their first in five years), the quartet find inspiration through the percussive-heavy, traditional Javanese musical style of gamelan.Over 11 unhinged tracks, OOIOO match their volcanic backbeats and low-end with equally rhythmic vocals: screams, screeches and moans.
When OOIOO started in the mid-1990s, there wasn’t much evidence to suggest that the band would be any longer lived than the numerous other satellite projects rattling through deep space orbit alongside Japanese noise-rock giants, Boredoms. OOIOO (say it oh-oh-eye-oh-oh) has endured, though, and nearly twenty years and six albums later, the all-female quartet—lead by Flaming Lips LP namesake and Boredoms percussionist Yoshimi—have established their own voice, audience, and influence, long since transcending their origins as ancillary Bore-product. Gamel—which arrived last year in Japan on Boredoms’ own Shock City imprint and which is only now seeing wide release through Thrill Jockey—is OOIOO’s seventh full-length and also the group’s strongest effort in some time.
Originally an offshoot of the experimental rock madness of the Boredoms, Yoshimi P-We's multicolored song explosions with OOIOO grew exponentially into their own fearless amalgam of boisterous pop and trail-blazing experimentalism. Gamel is the band's seventh album since they began their studio existence with 1997's self-titled outing, and their first collection of new material since 2009's Armonico Hewa. Where other albums have been heavily edited and processed studio affairs, Gamel aims to harness the power of the band's live show, going for a more direct sound on its 11 brazen tracks.
One frustrating thing about Boredoms is that they don’t really release records anymore. Apparently this is because their live shows have become so ambitiously colossal that they would be completely impossible to capture on vinyl/CD/cassette/digital file in any half-decently representative way. For example, their set(s) at ATP 2012 featured five drummers and 14 guitarists conducted by one Yamantaka Eye in the middle bashing a seven-necked guitar with a big stick and yelling his blessed head off.
Leading up to the release of Gamel, OOIOO frontwoman and Boredoms drummer Yoshimi declared a change in her name, dropping her former adopted surname, going either exclusively by Yoshimi or by Yoshimio (“the O represents a circle, infinite and elusive,” the press release noted). Perhaps it’s a coincidence that the letter “O” permeates both of her band names as well as her birth name, Yokota Yoshimi. That epic ethereality she’s choosing to link into, though, has always been present and worked for.
First things first: how do you feel about gamelan? Are you keen on malleted metallophones? Take note of this album's title and know that you are in for a heavy dosage. This is likely independent music's most gamelan-centric outing since that crazy record with the Thai elephants. No pachyderms sharing the spotlight here, though. Not sure those big-eared hippies could keep up, as this particular shade of gamelan is—what?—an outré amalgamation of Magma's willfully obtuse operatics, Steve Reich's looping percussion explorations, Sun City Girls' ethnic appropriations and WTF-fetish, and, you know, just Japan.
The name OOIOO was an organic and happy accident. Yoshimi, drummer and founder member of Boredoms came upon the name for the band she fronts by appropriating a doodle by Boredoms leader Eye. As it turns out, he'd meant the letters OOIOO to appear as a vertical drawing of two suns, a horizon and dual reflection in the ocean beneath. Yoshimi however had taken a sideways view of it, as she does much of the world it seems.
“I’d like to have dessert for starters,” Trey Songz sings on “Cake,” the first song from his new album, “Trigga.” Of course, it is the first song — Trey Songz isn’t much given to subtlety, nuance or skipping the lurid details. With R. Kelly’s libido largely silenced because of ….
Yoshimi started OOIOO on a lark in the mid-’90s, when she assembled some musicians she knew to accompany her in a magazine photo shoot. Fact soon followed fiction; two decades later, Yoshimi (also a member of avant-noise masters Boredoms) and her ensemble continue to break down boundaries of genre and intent. OOIOO’s sixth album is rooted in percussion-forward Javanese gamelan, but the centuries-old style only serves as launching point.