Leading up to the release of Gamel, OOIOO frontwoman and Boredoms drummer Yoshimi declared a change in her name, dropping her former adopted surname, going either exclusively by Yoshimi or by Yoshimio (“the O represents a circle, infinite and elusive,” the press release noted). Perhaps it’s a coincidence that the letter “O” permeates both of her band names as well as her birth name, Yokota Yoshimi. That epic ethereality she’s choosing to link into, though, has always been present and worked for. Gamel, the seventh album from OOIOO, finds a new link in Yoshimio’s chain to the infinite and elusive: gamelan, a droning, traditional music from Indonesia.
While Boredoms have chased eccentric, ritualistic, meditative experiences (take their spiraling 88-drummer performances, or their literal wall of guitars, or Yamantaka Eye’s lamp-like synth triggers), their instrumentation tends to stick to Western, rock-ready tools like guitars, drums, and synths, though they’re all modified. Yoshimi fluidly incorporates the resonant gongs and hammered metal harmonics into her cyclical compositions and chanted vocals, as if she’s just discovered the tools that years back built her spaceship and immediately ascertains their potential use, or possibly spent years studying them in secret only to step forward with complete understanding.
The push-pull of guitars, vocals, and clanging gamelan mallets on opener “Don Ah” builds to a frenetic, futuristic jazz rush, the plinking working like a vibraphone, the drums and bass riding a bop groove. The horn-led “Gamel Kamasu” similarly dabbles in free jazz bubbling, but those bubbles burst into a screeching no wave gasoline puddle, which then shimmers in its own strangely beautiful way.
The gamelan instrumentation comes off so naturally that its involvement isn’t always immediately in mind, even though, yes, that is a furiously fast ripple of hammered metallophone driving the incantations of “Jesso Testa”. And yes, those layered, eerie tones on “Gamel Uma Umo” come from an ancient music form that apparently Javanese mythology says was created by a god in order to summon the other gods. That droning, metallic ping could be a bit taxing to some listeners over the course of an entire album. It also occasionally falls from a prominent role, the usual OOIOO formula overpowering. On the whole, though, Yoshimio and OOIOO honor that infinite and elusive history on Gamel without ever losing their own present.
Essential Tracks: “Don Ah”, “Gamel Kamasu”, and “Jesso Testa”