OOIOO: Taiga

Thrill Jockey

Yoshimi P-We is the coolest person in the world. There really isn’t any credible argument against this truth. She drums and screams and plays trumpet for the Boredoms, a Japanese band so bizarrely great that not even their recent profile in the New Yorker can blunt their edge. She has been in side-project bands with members of Sonic Youth, Pavement, and Cibo Matto. And you know that Flaming Lips album called Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots? Yep, that was a semi-concept record about her, featuring her yelling and free jazz horn stylings. (I once interviewed the Lips’ Steven Drozd, who said that Yoshimi was actually really pissed off at them for editing so much of her stuff out of the finished record.)

But her real legacy of awesomeness might actually be focused on her band OOIOO. This all-female group, which was reportedly formed as a stunt for a magazine shoot, has only released a few records, but all of them are challenging and beautiful and just plain cool. (My favorite is Feather Float, but some swear by Green and Gold, and I haven’t heard some of the early stuff.) OOIOO combines tribal drumming and chanting with modern electronic textures, jazz, funk, avant-classical, noize, assorted world musics, prog, punk, and minimalism.

Taiga has eight tracks, all of which have titles consisting of three letters. They are very strange and very wonderful, and none of them are easily boiled down. Take, for instance, the eight-minute piece called “ATS”. It starts with 1970s conga music, quickly adds blips and beeps and three-part girl-group doo-wop harmonies, and then turns African with a multi-tracked marimba section. New instruments and rhythmic motifs keep being added for the first three minutes, until we get to a funky breakdown, at which point it turns into something that works more like avant-African chanty dance music. Two minutes later, a huge guitar riff introduces a full-on dance-punk jam with squealing feedback and squealing accordion and squealing Japanese women. It’s exhausting, it’s exhilarating, it’s excellent.

And it might be one of the lower-energy tracks on this album. Certainly, “UMO” is more hyper; this piece sounds like a band of overcaffeinated goth cheerleaders, all banging on stuff and chanting. (I keep expecting them to break into Toni Basil’s “Mickey”, which, y’know, WOULD BE AWESOME.) “UJA” has about 12 levels of polyrhythmatic madness, maybe 14 levels of weird vocal, and at least a couple of acid guitars twining around each other… and then things get really wild, as the whole thing goes all glorious freaky Afrobeat.

Which is not to say that everything here is one-note. “KMS” is very much like late ’60s hipster jazz (think Tony Williams Lifetime); that is, of course, when it’s not busy incorporating Mexican banda music horn flourishes. The 15-minute “SAI” out-Fiery-Furnaces the Fiery Furnaces by going through about as many twists and turns as a piece can possibly go through. My daughter thinks it sounds like “mystery music”; my son says it sounds like “opera crossed with a spy movie”. They are both right.

I’m not saying this is the easiest music to deal with; those with more vanilla tastes will not want to come anywhere near this. But for avant-garde multi-genre music from Japan, it’s awfully cuddly and adorable. Nothing here will actually hurt you — unlike some Boredoms albums, or anything by Nickelback — and a lot will make you smile and dance and think. OOIOO is a whole lot of fun. But for a group that started as a joke, THEY AIN’T NO JOKE.

RATING 9 / 10