OOIOO are an outfit of genre-transcending Japanese soundsmiths founded in 1995. They’re led by the illustrious Yoshimi P-We, well-known as the primary drummer and one of two consistent members in the legendary Osaka-based noise/psych outfit Boredoms (the other member is Yamataka Eye). Over the decades she’s been a driving factor in Boredom’s evolution from chaotic noise punks into the disciplined mystic-psych apostles they are today. She’s also the namesake for The Flaming Lips album “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.” Boredoms have been relatively dormant in recent years, but in that time OOIOO has managed to put out a couple of albums, including 2009’s Armonico Hewa.
OOIOO seem to reinvent themselves for each album, although complex polyrhythms and epic pop melodies have remained a focus throughout. Their latest album, released stateside early this month on Thrill Jockey, is called Gamel, so named because it features metallophones from the ancient Javanese style of music played on gamelan ensembles. It might just be their most radical release yet.
Gamel’s overall tone is a challenge to Western ideals of harmony and melody, since unlike most Western music, traditional gamelan compositions often don’t measure notes in half-steps, resulting in irregular intervals and songs that don’t resolve into dominant roots the way most Western classical and pop music does. By combining this style with an experimental use of rock instrumentation like drum kits and electric guitars, not to mention meticulous vocal harmonies and chants, they create an absolutely otherworldly sound. That said, the pieces on Gamel flow seamlessly in-and-out of melodious grooving glory, laying down funky beats that will wiggle their way inside your body and make you dance. Indeed, every instrument, from voice to guitar, can be used like a drum for OOIOO. The end-result is a circusy celebration of life, occasionally erupting into moments of euphoric noise while remaining firmly grounded in the repetitive, strange and mysterious sounds of a few souls hammering away on gamelan.
If that all sounds too good to be true, you can experience it in person when OOIOO hits the road for a brief (and rare) U.S. tour next week, making stops in Philly, D.C., New York, Chicago and, yes, Boston, where they’ll be hitting up Berkeley’s Red Room on July 19th. They’ll be joined by Providence’s Black Pus, the primal drum-and-noise solo project of Lightning Bolt drummer Brian Chippendale. Kindred rhythm spirits, it won’t be the first time Chippendale and Yoshimi have shared the bill. Lightning Bolt and Black Pus have both opened for Boredoms in the past, and Chippendale was among the drummers who performed in Boredoms’ original and positively spiritual 77 Boadrum performance beneath the Brooklyn Bridge in 2007. It will likely be a once in a lifetime opportunity, certain to cause regrets in those who miss it, so, you know, don’t miss it.