wears the trousers magazine


ooioo: armonico hewa (2009)
October 28, 2009, 2:31 pm
Filed under: album, review | Tags: , , ,

o_lp_ooioo_09

OOIOO
Armonico Hewa ••½
Thrill Jockey

Formed by Boredoms drummer Yoshimi P-We as an amateurish side project in the late ’90s, all-girl four-piece OOIOO frequently get described as ‘experimental’, a category that seems to be music journalism’s all-encompassing dumping ground for everything that’s, well, uncategorisable. They’ve been steadily trickling out albums every two to three years since, always labouring under unwieldy comparisons with their frontwoman’s primary outlet (an ensemble also described as experimental) but doggedly teasing out their sound with each successive release, building on its improvisational origins to form a style that’s very much their own. Their 2006 release, Taiga, was the band’s most direct and expansive album to date, so Armonico Hewa arrives with some expectation weighing on its shoulders. And with a title that’s derived from Swahili and Spanish to mean ‘air in a harmonious state’ — an idea that’s beautifully expressed by the album cover’s serene depiction of wind turbines surrounding a sunset-headed girl — could Yoshimi, Kayan, Aya and Ali be going a little soft on us?

As it turns out, airy and harmonious aren’t particularly accurate descriptors of Armonico Hewa, unless those turbines make repetitive beats with unusual looped sound effects and fearsome chanting. Conventional constructs of songforms and melody are given a typically wide berth as OOIOO continue to explore the natural themes of their previous album (‘taiga’ being a word meaning ‘forest’ in Russian or ‘big river’ in Japanese), remaining obsessed with unlocking the potential of rhythm. These are always repetitive and trance-like, working in tandem with generally nonsensical vocals that frequently dissolve into their trademark ‘oo’ and ‘ii’ vowel sounds to create a giddy, primitive thrill. There are times when it sounds like every style imaginable has been thrown into a huge melting pot of cultural references – psych-folk, acid jazz, Afrobeat, Congolese rumba, the list goes on – but a few blissfully minimalist moments pop the noise-bubble and allow that airiness to manifest.

Among the highlights are the 7+ minute ‘Polacca’, the final minute of which collapses into a riot of freeform drumming, and the synth-based epic ‘Ulda’ in which the band break unexpectedly into a few lines of English, albeit delivered in a wailing frenzy that’s tricky to decipher. Some of the shorter songs also impress; ‘Konjo’ is enjoyably upbeat and manages a tune, and the all-too-brief closer ‘Hewa Hewa’ revels in some comfortingly direct punky thrash. The rest? Well, Armonico Hewa is by no means an easy listen, especially not in one go, but moments of beauty are there. Probably moments of genius too, just not accessible genius. With such a large back catalogue, it’s hard to see how OOIOO can still be ‘experimenting’. Perhaps they know exactly what their style is and there just isn’t a neat one-word description for it.

Stephanie Heney
UK release date: 02/11/09; www.myspace.com/oooiooo

 


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