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OOIOO - Taiga

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Artist: OOIOO

Album: Taiga

Label: Thrill Jockey

Review date: Jan. 10, 2007

This fifth full-length from the all-female Boredoms offshoot puts rhythm at the center of eight varied tracks, a sustained adrenaline kick coursing through constantly changing landscapes. Right from the get-go, the beat takes over. What is "UMA” but one continuous drum fill, shot through with gym whistles and punctuated with exuberant cheerleader yells? Even cool jazz "KMS," with its weirdly time-signatured bass slides and trumpeted fever dreams, is layered over an unstoppable drum beat, heavy on the cymbals but buzzing with sudden bursts of snare. And don't even try to count all the percussive elements on funk mamba "ATS," with its multiple mallet’d plinks, hand-drum slaps and sudden, drum-like bleeps of keyboard. In fact, this is a CD where everything turns into percussion by turns, and most particularly the vocals. "UJA’s” long, scat-singing intervals turn non-words into violent stabs of sound, as rhythm-centered as the bongos that ricochet around them. This is a drummer's record, no question, and that's not unexpected given that Yoshimi P-We orchestrates its polyrhythmic grooves.

Taiga is a restless sort of album, every cut different from the rest and the longer ones ("UJA" and "SAI" in particular) comprised of a series of distinct parts. The transition from rock-drumming "UMA" into the more cerebral and stretched out "KMS" is jarring the first time you hear it. It only makes sense as you begin to hear the connections in the interplay of rhythms, long guitar notes splatter painted with rapid fire bongo cadences, slippery bass notes calling out clattered drum fills. There's a sense of joy, of sheer exultation in rhythm that connects all these tracks; it just manifests itself in a multiplicity of ways.

You're mostly on your own in interpreting these cuts. Singing is mostly wordless (and in Japanese anyway), and all the cuts have cryptic three-letter names, which may or may not be tied to their sounds or instrumentations. You end up sort of reading the tea leaves, wondering if it's intentional that the opening "UMA" sounds a lot like the penultimate "UMO" for instance, with its pounding drum beat and yelled-out choruses, and if so, why neither is anything like the similarly phonetic "UJA.” But mostly Taiga is about sensation, playful and wild and smart but moving way too fast for contemplation.

Though reportedly inspired by nature, much of Taiga feels too danceably modern to evoke either forests ("Taiga" in Russian) or rivers ("Taiga" in Japanese). At a stretch, you might hear the ebb and surge of the sea in the drum rolls of "GRS" or a tropical jungle's worth of birdcalls in cacophonous, multi-xylophoned "UJA." But listen as "UJA" picks up that head-banging, repetitive piano riff and turns from rain forest epiphany into a wind-up toy, then enters into a frantic, pulse-pounding rush, all nervous keyboards and sixteenth-note flurries on the hand drums. Of course, we tend to forget that the natural world is unbelievable complex, ordered but chaotic, with a million life forms simultaneously co-existing and competing for air. Taiga's like that nature, not the placid, tranquil stereotype, a complicated interplay of sound, pulsing with life and evolving faster than you can track its progress.

By Jennifer Kelly

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