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Gamel Nick Hutchings , August 20th, 2014 09:38

The name OOIOO was an organic and happy accident. Yoshimi, drummer and founder member of Boredoms came upon the name for the band she fronts by appropriating a doodle by Boredoms leader Eye. As it turns out, he'd meant the letters OOIOO to appear as a vertical drawing of two suns, a horizon and dual reflection in the ocean beneath. Yoshimi however had taken a sideways view of it, as she does much of the world it seems. As a nod to this cross purpose, the artwork for the album Gamel features the characters in diagonal formation.

The album, as its title attests, is in the musical style of Gamelan. This may seem purposefully obtuse for an art rock outfit of considerable intelligence and charisma like OOIOO, but has also been a fairly organic process. Indonesian folk music Gamelan derives from the word "gamel" which means "to hit", "to jam" or "to have a session". Gamelan players Kohey-Sai and Hama had been a part of the OOIOO touring band for about two years and had already incorporated some of this ancient playing into the arrangements of old songs from the band's repertoire. This new OOIOO album Gamel is the natural progression, a whole album played in single sprawling takes, imperfections and all. It's literally "a session".

It should come as no surprise then that as a percussionist Yoshimi should be fascinated with such an historic percussive instrument as the gamelan. A drum can be tuned but the gamelan goes much further. As the brass is hit it resonates harmonic overtones on which melodies can be played. Yoshimi has characterised the previous rhythms of OOIOO as being lateral, seasick making almost, but has likened the gamelan to being a "vertical thread in a tapestry" around which to place those horizontal undulations, much like the origin of OOIOO's name.

While the traditional elements of OOIOO as a conventional rock band drive the low frequencies, it is the gamelan that rides the waves. It may be false modesty, but Yoshimi's work is based more on instinctual feel than scientific fact. The guitars are not tuned to match the gamelan's in-built tuning, they are an approximation only – complementary mostly, dissonant sometimes, fulfilling a compelling and driving journey that's sometimes maudlin like opener 'Don Ah', sometimes menacing in the case of 'Gamel Kamasu'.

In fact 'Gamel Kamasu' builds itself into such a crescendo it feels like it's about to relieve it's own tension by mutating into 'Rock Lobster' by the B52s. 'Shizuku Gunung Agung' is reminiscent of 'Djed' by Tortoise, familiar world music tropes, played in a fearless and fresh style, where the old world crashes up against the new like dissonant tectonic plates. Other more unusual echoes clang around, in and out of the subconsciousness within which this album allows you to slip, including surprisingly the deep drum break of Tone Loc's 'Funky Cold Medina', during the deepest darkest recesses of the song 'Gamel Ninna Yama'. 'Atatawa' could almost be a Jeremy Deller acid brass interpretation of a Warp Records classic, 'Testone' by Sweet Exorcist perhaps, bleeps supplanted by chimes. 'Gamel Udahah' is a highlight, with its off-key downbeat reminiscent of Talking Heads' 'This Must Be The Place (Naiive Melody)'. Nuzzling in among the rhythm of the gamel are echoes of rock & roll history.

There was always a worry that Gamel might be too self-consciously studious and challenging for its own arty sake, but as it transpires, it's an unnecessary and unfounded thought. The traditional gamelan riffs existed as a tribute dance to a local god, and yet played by OOIOO its music to bite a bat's head off to.