Photo: Ryo Mitamura / Courtesy of Thrill Jockey

OOIOO Blast Out of Lengthy Hiatus with Brash and Beautifully Unpredictable ‘nijimusi’

Revered experimental Japanese noise/punk/jazz band, OOIOO are back with a typically intense and brilliant new album, nijimusi.

Thrill Jockey
17 January 2020

The press materials for nijimusi, the long-awaited eighth full-length album from OOIOO, describe the band’s music as “sounds created for no reason… sounds that come and go and disappear into the air like a scent as soon as they materialize.” The quartet seem to thrive on traveling down one musical path before quickly, inexplicably, doing something completely different with no warning. This lack of predictability is what’s kept them a vital, acclaimed band for more than 20 years.

Led by guitarist, vocalist and percussionist YoshimiO (also a founding member of the Boredoms), nijimusi sees OOIOO returning from a long hiatus. In the time since the 2014 release of their last album, Gamel, guitarist Kyoko passed away. So with the current lineup – consisting of YoshimiO and Kayan on guitar, Aya on bass, and Mishina on drums – the band are intent on channeling their sound through a relatively more conventional ensemble.

The word “relatively” is key here. Nothing OOIOO do is conventional. Even within the deeply experimental fabric of their discography, nijimusi is a big leap from the previous album. Gamel, true to its title, used the Indonesian gamelan sound as its spine, creating an atmosphere at once hypnotic and unsettling, with a decidedly anti-rock base despite occasional bursts of electric guitar and simmering distortion. With nijimusi, OOIOO have brought the guitars back front and center, along with a healthy slice of prog, math rock, and free jazz. While the opening title track is a bit of an anomaly within the rest of the album – it’s just under a minute of freewheeling screaming and instrumental chaos, bringing to mind John Zorn’s unhinged Naked City project – the rest of the album contains plenty of long-form opportunities for the band to flex its musical muscle.

On “nijimu”, rapid-fire drumming and razor-sharp guitar barrel along in lockstep over YoshimiO’s odd sing-song recitations amid squalls of distortion. A strobe-like keyboard effect weaves in and out, like some hopped-up psychedelic transmission from outer space. That alone would be enough to propel the song, but the band shift gears abruptly into a funkier, airier section, as if they get bored driving down any single musical avenue after a few minutes. There’s rarely a dull moment here. The guitar-driven jazz/rock of “jibun” sees Mishina’s nimble drumming move through multiple phases as the guitars shift from clean tones to screaming effect-laden bursts at the drop of a hat. Many of the songs seem to exist as multi-part suites, although they’re not indexed or titled that way – it’s as if OOIOO wants the listener to be pleasantly surprised by all the stylistic zig-zagging.

The centerpiece of nijimusi is arguably the 11-minute-and-change track with the weirdly rambling title, “walk for ‘345’ minutes, while saying ‘Ah Yeah!’ with a ‘Mountain Book’ in one Hand, until a shower of light pours down”. It isn’t much of a departure from the rest of the album, but with its lengthy run time, it allows the band plenty of space to explore their strange, unique, dark sound. The first few minutes are slow, sparse, and deliberate but eventually build up in speed and intensity to the point where it becomes something of a caffeinated punk/jazz hybrid, continuing to morph and shape-shift until it collapses into a sea of white noise.

With nijimusi, OOIOO have reestablished their reputation as an astonishingly talented band that can often be jarring, unsettling, and even occasionally off-putting. But their spirit of innovation and originality is always present. And they are never, ever boring.

RATING 9 / 10