Music

OOIOO: Armonico Hewa

Richard Elliott

Despite the dark forests that OOIOO occasionally travel, it seems the group is ultimately driven to find the open pastures and high, harmonious places where the air is clear.


OOIOO

Armonico Hewa

Label: Thrill Jockey
US Release Date: 2009-10-20
UK Release Date: 2009-11-02
Artist website
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Armonico Hewa is OOIOO's sixth full-length album and first since the release of Taiga in 2006. As usual, the band has some fun with language in creating its new album title. "Armónico" is Spanish for "harmonic" and "hewa" is Swahili for "air". The band suggests "air in a harmonious state" as a translation of the title. Harmony is certainly an apt description of much of the album, which places a greater emphasis on the synchronic than the diachronic. It is not that the music lacks forward momentum, rather that there is plenty of space given over to exploring simultaneity.

The group's line-up is the same as that used for Taiga: Yoshimi (guitar), Kayan (guitar), Aya (bass), and Ai (drums), with all four women providing vocals. The tracks are shorter than on previous releases, with most tracks emphasizing short bursts of guitar distortion, prominent percussion and vocal exercises. What remains constant in OOIOO's work is an obsession with rhythm and the poetry of phonemes. Constantly returning to variations on the "O-O-I-O-O" theme, the group explores the interplay of letters, syllables, and rhythms in speech and music. Phonemes are fascinating units in this sense. They represent the smallest units of differentiated sound in spoken language. Deconstructed, combined and recombined, they are inherently musical, allowing the constant possibility to invent new sound patterns.

Endlessly exploring the borders between sense and nonsense, OOIOO's music is dreamlike yet shot through with vivid moments of wide-awake lucidity. Theirs is a soundworld which lowers you into the murky depths of consciousness, only to guide you to the verge of crystal-clear revelation. For example, witness the triumphant moment when "Irorun" resolves into the subsequent track "Konjo".

Although it has been fashionable in recent years to label this type of music "freak folk", there is a longer history of reference points to be mapped out. To take just a few examples, one could identify a line running from Arthur Lyman through Exuma, Can and Faust to Sunburned Hand of the Man. What binds these artists, and what OOIOO tap into so successfully, is a strong sense of ritual, of giving oneself over to a soundworld that aims towards trance-like states, motorik repetition, and an exploration of the presymbolic world. This rhythmic drive also places the music in the realm of minimalism. Comparisons can be made between some of these tracks ("Uda Hah" and "Irorun" are good examples) and the voice and drum compositions of Steve Reich and similar composers.

While there are no epic tracks along the lines of those found on Taiga and 2003's Kila Kila Kila, the middle of the album is taken up by two longish pieces. "Ulda" briefly conjures up the spirit of Japanese New Age synth artist Kitaro, more specifically his former group Far East Family Band. Dark synth hues are explored over tentative drumming, then an English lyric enters for a while until sense is discarded in favor of wordless vocals. "Polacca" begins with rhythmic chanting followed by funky wah-wah guitar, then evolves into spiky psychedelic jamming and phased vocals, Ai's drums and Aya's bass driving the band forward to a glorious change of tempo midway through, which in turn leads to a section of submarine propulsion and drowned vocals and a climax that sounds like machinery breaking down.

"O O I A H" is a splendid singalong of happy nonsense that mutates into a synth and guitar workout that has its controls firmly set for the heart of the sun. In addition to extended Damo Suzuki-style exploration of syllables and phonemes, additional vocal harmonies are strongly in evidence throughout the album. In many places, and most notably on "Hewa Hewa", the band's music is based on a form of call and response, which, given the ritualistic elements to OOIOO's music, seems like a logical progression from earlier drum-heavy pieces. That said, percussion remains key to the band's sound. Like the mutating linguistics of the vocals, it remains difficult to pin down the styles used to any particular place. "Orokai" would not sound out of place on a Congolese album such as those released by Konono No. 1 or Staff Benda Bilili. Indeed, Konono provide an excellent comparison with OOIOO in terms of the attainment of full-on rhythm 'n' distortion.

Armonico Hewa proves that OOIOO are far from running out of ideas. As if to show just how good they can be, the group saves the best for last. Having quickly set up a locked-in trance groove on "Orokai", they throw in some freaky gypsy/soul brass, which just as suddenly drops out to leave a bass break that leads, without missing a beat, into the final track. Hardly has the listener got over the blissful brass than they find themselves implicated in the playground chant of "Honki Ponki", an ending which cannot fail to leave a smile behind. No matter how dark the forests that OOIOO occasionally travel, it seems the band is ultimately driven to find the open pastures and high, harmonious places where the air is clear.

7

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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