My four favorite instruments featured on Back to the Mono Kero!, Japanese lady trio eX-Girl’s fourth album: digital president, asshole box, slide geisha, and scum tape from garbage. OK, maybe that last one isn’t actually an instrument. In fact, the whole list might be a joke. But Hoppy Kamikaya, who produced the album and cowrote every track except the cover of M’s “Pop Muzik,” supposedly makes music with this exotica. Could “digital president” refer to behind-the-boards expertise? “Asshole box” to studio direction? “Scum tape from garbage” to salvaging botched recordings? “Slide geisha” to . . . well, you get the idea.
Anyway, who knows. I don’t understand my VCR manual either. Point is, Back to the Mono Kero! rates with the best excrements of dog, marshmallow stuck to the sole of red shoe, high-purity heroin, and atom-heart mother ever kicked in my ear. (Lyrics from “Waving Scientist @ Frog King,” by the way.) Even the eX-Girls themselves (Chihiro, Kirilo, and Fuzuki, on guitar and sitar, bass and Casiotone, and drums, respectively—all sing) wonder what the Pink Floyd one means, but the other three signify: Heroin suggests their reverence for rock tradition (in contrast to “Miss E” Elliot), excrement means they’re the shit, and marshmallow equals bubblegum.
Convenient, then, that I just received Bubblegum Music Is the Naked Truth, a long book about short songs, in the mail. “Group Sounds and Japanese Pop,” an essay by Glenn Sadin contained therein, recounts late-’70s J-poppers Pink Lady creating a “sensation” by “shaking their things,” not sneering, “God save the queen (emperor, whatever)”. In the mid ’80s, the song-and-dance TV show Meow at Dusk—which starred average, untrained high school girls—began airing in Japan. This gender-specific cross between The Mickey Mouse Club and Bands on the Run constituted the country’s Our Band Could Be Your Life myth.
Or so I fantasize. eX-Girl do that to a boy, what with their alternately effervescent and operatic triple harmonizing, tremendous, bounding drums, alternately squirty and heavy riffs, and obscure sass (“Before you slice him up and make a meal/Stroke your cucumber/Let him know how you feel”). Reminiscent of Shonen Knife, you say? Who the hell are they? Oh, right. Well, Bis crossed with the Need comes closer, as long as you remember to add foreign-country grammar. But where Bis and the Need tend to simply revel in sound, Back to the Mono Kero! is song driven. Their “Pop Muzik” is instantly recognizable, but somehow simultaneously beefed up, cut apart, and sweetened. Ad jingles, not seven-inch singles, seem to inspire Hoppy Kamikaya.
Like Daft Punk’s “One More Time,” OOIOO’s “Be Sure to Loop” takes “Pop Muzik” one step further via glorious regression, skimming on a self-reflexive phrase coupled with a broken-record beat’n’riff combo. It should be their theme song. Ostensibly artier than eX-Girl, since they play longer and slower tunes, OOIOO loop more than they wander on Feather Float, and that’s why it’s their best album to date. Kill Rock Stars put out the uneven OOIOO in ’98, the same year Feather Float—only just released in the U.S.—was recorded. Cut last year, the finely textured but overall all-too-even Gold and Green is for now available only as an import.
Yoshimi P-We, drummer for the always noisy and recently beautiful Boredoms, produced Feather Float and gets credit for singing and playing guitar, Casiotone, and about a half dozen other instruments. But despite their artistic command and hipster cachet, OOIOO still started out as a “band” assembled for a fashion photo shoot. (The Ex Models—not to be confused with eX-Girl, the Ex, or either L.A. or Australia’s X—must be feeling pretty inauthentic right now.)
Easy on the eyes or not, Yoshimi, Kyoko (guitar and vocals), Maki (bass), and Yoshiko (drums) won’t let up on your ears. Reclaiming the Slits and Kleenex for post-Bikini Kill grrrls who believe femme art rock begins and ends with Sleater-Kinney, OOIOO sound like sirens tripping in the rainforest, mostly thanks to swooning chants and the occasional jambe, bongo, or talking drum. Editing psychedelic swirls and droning beats is tricky, of course, and some tracks—especially those off Green and Gold—could use an asshole box.
That said, Feather Float has some great non-jingles: The roboto-guitar riff, plinking keys, and driving—as opposed to droning—beat of “Jackson’s Club ‘Sunspot’ ” make me shake my thing; two minutes later, the supa-deep booty bass of “Asozan” vibrates both my thing and, from the sound of it, drinking glasses at the studio. But Yoshimi peppering the track with “Ow!” and “Shew!” shows me she’s working her thing, too. More proof that even bubblegum comes from the atom-heart mother.
eX-Girl play the Knitting Factory September 14.