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OOIOO - nijimusi Music Album Reviews

Boredoms drummer YoshimiO returns to the long-running, shape-shifting project that represents the other major pillar of her career, consolidating the strengths the band has developed over the years.

Though YoshimiO is probably still best known as Yoshimi P-We, the longtime drummer for the avant-rock group Boredoms, it’s time to stop calling OOIOO her side project. Eight albums into a discography that stretches over nearly a quarter century, the band she co-founded isn’t just one among her numerous collaborations; it represents a pillar of YoshimiO’s long and impressive career.


The group’s punky late-’90s debut merely hinted at YoshimiO’s ambitions as a bandleader. Before long, OOIOO’s sound expanded to incorporate drum-circle groove, ritualistic chanting, and psychedelic tendrils of melody. Individual motifs could seem sectional, or even jarring, in isolation. Some of these same traits could be found in Boredoms’ turn-of-the-century work. But the way OOIOO approached similar postures has long felt distinct. By the time of 2000’s Gold & Green, the band landed on a method of stirring its influences into a style that could prove unexpectedly approachable.

In order to keep some sense of surprise afloat, balances between the band’s aesthetic ingredients have changed in worthy ways over the years, with the starker percussive attack of 2006’s Taiga giving way to lustrous shimmers of gamelan on 2013’s Gamel. Looming over it all is YoshimiO’s playful editorial hand. In a recent interview with band’s stateside label, Thrill Jockey, YoshimiO described her freeform approach in the studio. “When we record those songs, we play them as if we’re playing a live show. After all the other members go home, I add my parts to the songs... I record the same parts that I play when we perform the songs live, but I also add phrases that I come up with spontaneously, using instruments that I’m not used to playing. It’s like having a conversation with the song.”

A good conversation requires inspiration as well as a stable language. Now, with a couple decades in the rearview, it’s easier to see that YoshimiO’s drive to find this balance between the chaotic and the familiar has long been one of OOIOO’s goals. Over time, the overdubs and shifts in arrangement style have tipped listeners to the fact that the band is not on auto-pilot. But YoshimiO isn’t out to overthrow all of her prior work, either; the band’s albums frequently delight with singalong pop pleasures. It all adds up to a satisfyingly well-rounded quality that isn’t terribly common in the world of experimental rock.

Nijimusi doesn’t do much to mess with this underlying approach. The subtle change, this time around, has to do with the debut of the group’s newest drummer, MISHINA. (According to YoshimiO, she had to edit this drummer’s tracks less extensively than those of prior percussionists.) And despite a culminating victory lap in which riffs from the group’s past albums come back for a curtain call, the album doesn’t feel like a nostalgia trip. Instead, it’s a consolidation of the strengths that this band has been amassing over its long life.

The opener gives just a hint of OOIOO’s chaotic energies: In 50 seconds, a wash of cymbals is put through a whirling, tape-like effect, leading in turn to squalling vocals and a brief hint of hardcore. A hard cut to the next track, “Nijmu,” reestablishes the band’s more hypnotic quality, thanks to an attractive, descending bass motif. Throughout, there is a winning tension between the experimental touches and jammy meditations. The lightly swinging percussion in “Jibun” helps root the song’s first half, when the melodic performances have a quality of purposeful wandering; the second half lurches into OOIOO rock mode, which might remind Boredoms fans of Vision Creation Newsun.

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Tracks like “Asozan5” and “Tisou”—the latter of which features striated vocals, minimalist patterns, and funk—operate as mini-suites that draw on textures the band has explored previously. But this time, the pieces are all strung together with a veteran group’s poise. That next-level group mastery also lends merit to the band’s decision to reprise some past material, as they do in a track with a mouthful of a title (but one that’s beautiful to read, as a sort of conceptual-art command): “walk for ‘345’ minutes, while saying ‘Ah Yeah!’ with a ‘Mountain Book’ in one hand, until a shower of light pours down.”

If you’re fan of the group, you know “Ah Yeah!” from the album Feather Float, and “Mountain Book” from Gold & Green. But even if you don’t know the back catalog, this 11-minute opus is an excellent way to encounter some of those themes for the first time; the track’s patient ebb and flow has the feel of a mini-concert. When a band works the way OOIOO does—popping up a couple times per decade, while delivering subtle but interesting updates to a pre-established style—it’s easy to take it for granted. But that doesn’t mean we should. Certain kinds of conversations are only possible with friends of long standing.


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