You may be unfamiliar with OOIOO, but you’ve likely heard of the woman behind all those vowels: Yoshimi, drummer in the raucous Japanese band Boredoms and muse behind The Flaming Lips‘ famous Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. For the past 17 years, she’s commandeered OOIOO, a genre-pushing collective that breaks down the barriers between pop and experimental music.
Something happens during the opening minutes of OOIOO’s new album Gamel that, in a canny sense, raises it above all other records released this year: It levitates. “Don Ah,” like the rest of the music on the group’s sixth album, features elements of gamelan, a chromatically tuned metallophone music that’s been played in Asia’s Pacific Rim since roughly the 8th century. For 40 breathless seconds, the instrument takes flight, carrying listeners with it in descending triplets, repeated to hypnotic levels of spiritual vibration.
The 10-minute ride of “Don Ah” is a perfect introduction to Yoshimi’s curious spirit. Over the course of Gamel‘s 11 songs, the music takes on many forms — jazz inflections, funk-soul hustle, Sesame Street-style manic melodics, vocal progressive rock a la Christian Vander’s Magma — and never sits still long enough for the smile to fall from your face.
Yoshimi approaches the gamelan tradition with the utmost respect, while never sacrificing the adventurousness at the heart of her OOIOO project. You’ll hear blasts of guitar, quick shifts in tempo and time signature, and innovative vocal techniques, all to transformative effect. By the end of “Gamel Udahah,” the gamelan has been augmented with digital percussion and chunky riffs to the point where it’s just a few snare hits shy of drum-and-bass. “Challenging” music doesn’t get more fun than this.