omething frightens me about this record. The songs on Taiga look harmless enough at first, but you can lose a finger if you’re not careful. Let those who believe that all-female Japanese bands are all fluff and façade get bitten. The opener, “UMA” says it all. A loose elephant of a tribal, tom-tom rhythm breaks forth headlong into a duck call. OOIOO then launches into a call-and-response group chant; their tone scolding and taunting. The leader screeches and chews her vowels, while the rest engage in a vaguely evil jump-rope sing-along. A goose-bark synth noise and an electric guitar later seesaw to grab a hold of something while the room spins and the beat persists until the song just cuts off.
Under Yoshimi P-We’s command, OOIOO deftly—and schizophrenically—skips across genres. Listening to Taiga is like watching an episode of the hit Japanese cartoon Shin-Chan (The show revolves around a tyke that sweats profusely, drops his pants, and delivers incorrect greetings). The language barrier and discord makes the record incomprehensible, but nearly everything is still as intoxicating and entertaining as hell.
Most of the music here continues the band’s pervious excursions into tribal percussion and cartoon-core melodrama. This time, though, the primitivism’s delirium follows a strange logic. “UJA” begins in a cliché percussion circle of “jungle” rhythms on bongos, steel drums, and marimbas before contorting to a stilt-walking guitar melody and witch doctor mantras. The band then jumps into an abrupt Latin-disco jam that halts for a peaceful duet between steel drums and a whiny, My-First-Casio synth. The band indulges in more distortion-singed Afrofunk grooves that loosely recall the days when the Talking Heads were in kente drag on “ATS” and “SAI.” Elsewhere, Yoshimi hollers and yowls a ballad to a fidgeting accordion and a drumroll on “GRS.”
Taiga’s last two tracks are OOIOO’s most engaging to date. “UMO” rehashes the all-hands-on-deck tribal chants of “UMA,” but they now have their vocals take hold of the rhythm and amass a sweltering tension. Their shouts encircle the listener and shove him or her back and forth. The song keeps reminding me of the Frank Chickens’ novelty hip-hop number, “We Are Ninja (Not Geisha),” but without the dilettantism of Western producers. The closer, “IOA” first spreads out its melody like an unfurling octopus; the women’s chants and gentle guitar loop all gracefully float around the studio mix. The band later descends into a suave disco groove that’s punctuated by a high-pitched guitar line—all the while randomly growling like they are biting their ways out of cages. It’s a triumph of freedom—and it also makes me want to hide in a tree to escape the beast. Which isn’t to say I wouldn’t mind missing a finger or two.
Reviewed by: Cameron Macdonald
Reviewed on: 2006-09-22