OOIOO Armonico Hewa

[Thrill Jockey; 2009]

Styles: experimental rock
Others: Boredoms, Free Kitten, OLAbi, Yuka Honda

Yoshimi P-We sure likes to keep herself busy. When she’s not drumming for brutal noise rockers Boredoms, hammering toms in drumming troupe OLAbi, or noise-making with Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon in Free Kitten, she’s fronting her own band. With OOIOO, Yoshimi takes the helm of an all-woman quartet and minces the creative ideas she’s gathered throughout her career. Sure, each OOIOO record involves a change in direction for the relentlessly imaginative Yoshimi, but we can always expect prominent drumming, grimy guitar riffs, and plenty of chanting. And while much of her work is fueled by a diet of serious experimentalism, there is also a sense of playfulness, of comfortable enjoyment.

Armonico Hewa, OOIOO’s sixth release, opens with a quiet but painful sine wave, quickly warding away the weak. From here, OOIOO unfold a series of complex, tribal riffs and harshly mangled loops. The best example of this is “Polacca,” eight minutes of furiously shape-shifting music, punctuated by ritual chanting that sounds as though the group has ditched all that wordy nonsense, reached a transcendental epiphany, and begun to speak in tongues. It ends with lurching mechanical loops, cementing itself as the strongest track on the album.

Unfortunately, not all of the experimentation works. Take for example the dainty, high-spirited “Konjo,” an intricate rhythmic buildup of a song that dances pleasantly around your ears until an early-80s Korg spills out strangely contrasting noise that sits in the mix like a mouthy gatecrasher. Elsewhere, the first three minutes of the following track, “Ulda,” thieves a retro cop-movie/bonnet-mounting montage soundtrack, which in the midst of Yoshimi’s flowing chants sounds like an unnecessary, almost ridiculous addition. And in another disappointing moment, “O O I A H” transforms from a complex and exciting vocal mantra to the sound of someone mindlessly fiddling with a pitch-shifting knob on a basic synth sound, again wildly out of context.

Yoshimi once said of Boredoms that “Our breathing is even decided on beforehand.” If this is so, then OOIOO offers her the freedom she craves: many of the improvised vocals fly high and low with careless abandon, adding buoyant charm to rhythmic tracks like “Hewa Hewa,” while dissonant guitar beatings punch holes through the whole glorious mess. It all ends with “Honki Ponki,” a song that sounds precisely like its title. It’s an upbeat finish to the album and a reminder of the joyous aspects of OOIOO’s experimentalism. If only Armonico Hewa could maintain such creative intuition throughout.

Links: OOIOO - Thrill Jockey

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