“Her name is Yoshimi, she’s a black belt in karate”… If you’re an alt-rock fan, you’ll be familiar with the opening verse on The Flaming Lips’ Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Pt I. But just who is Yoshimi?
That would be Yoshimi P-We, who was a guest vocalist and guitarist on the Flaming Lips’ record. Her trademark barks, yelps and shrieks, according to the American group, sounded like she was “battling monsters” – hence the song title. But to really hear Yoshimi in her element, you’ll need to turn to her band OOIOO, a Japanese quartet who don’t so much as toy with genres as chuck them into a blender and revel in the resulting beautiful mess.
Formed in 1997, the all-girl group swerve from power pop to no wave to psych-rock to kosmische – often within the same song. They even have an album inspired by traditional Javanese gamelan music. Nothing is off limits to Yoshimi and co, as these five essential OOIOO tunes will prove.
OOIOO’s debut album, while rough around the edges, is also the easiest to get to grips with – only because its many genres haven’t yet coalesced into a seamless whole. 200, for instance, is coloured by shades of math rock, riot grrrl and Kim Gordon’s wildest grunge fantasies.
Compare 200 to this track off their 2014 album, Gamel. Where the former is a blustering two-minute blitzkrieg, Don Ah represents a more mature OOIOO – it’s more tightly wrought composition than skittering curation of styles. The interlocking rhythms and chiming percussions are borrowed from gamelan music, while the staccato guitars and spidery basslines come from the post-punk and prog rock playbook.
3O O I A H
From Yoshimi’s demented-cheerleader squawks to Kayan’s psychedelic guitar solos, O O I A H is a restless, playful track that makes even the Flaming Lips seem like your conventional radio-rock act. Its skittish, atonal nature means the song eludes the listener’s attention, but prick your ears and you’ll find its instrumentation rich and rhythms complex.
4Be Sure To Loop
The opener of their 1998 album, Feather Float, is modern krautrock at its finest. But alongside the typical driving motorik beat, relentless bassline and repetitive chanting, OOIOO throw in the whirring synths and quirky vocals that have become their calling cards.
If Deerhoof, The Books and Shellac had a jam session together, the result would probably sound like this. UMO is a raw, fast-paced caper built upon call-and-response rallying cries, urgent drums and grinding bass – the art-rock equivalent of a marching song.