Boredoms devotees may be disappointed, at first, to learn that the seventh album from drummer Yoshimi P-We’s principal side-group contains motifs that have appeared on prior recordings reworked for gamelan. And yet Gamel isn’t just some crumb that fell from the avant-garde table; it’s the most tuneful batch of music OOIOO has released since 2000′s triumphant Gold and Green. Like that album, Gamel deals in hooks, first and foremost. If Yoshimi & Co. had to swipe a few themes from their more recent records in order to put together an hour this tight, all the better.
The opening track, “Don Ah,” shows how committed Gamel is to fun. At the outset, twinkling gamelan sounds lead to a swell of attractive vocal harmony. A lonely beat — not consistent enough, at first, to really be called a pulse — accelerates from background noise into a pitched-percussion ostinato, which then morphs into a funk pattern for electric guitar, bass and the chorus. Though it rifles through moods like a kid playing with the AM dial, this is the rare 10-minute jump-cut essay that knows how to upset expectations without spoiling the party.
Throughout, OOIOO re-drafts past songs in earnest, using this album’s battery of gamelan instruments. A guitar line from Armonico Hewa‘s “NIN NA YAMA” is given to the percussion section of “Gamel Ninna Yama.” And “Gamel Uma Umo” swipes vocal riffs from two Taiga opuses (“UMA” and “UMO”). But the revision yields results: where the vocal lines on “UMA” were frenetic and unmemorable, the take on Gamel is a candidate for a sing-along. These surprise touches are imprinted all over the gamelan-redrafts. (The last minute-and-change of “Gamel Kamasu” lands on a spring-loaded beat — featuring muffled kick drum and bass, a four-note gamelan pattern, and a droning electric guitar pattern — that could be excellent remix material.)
And the album also succeeds with its original tunes. “Kecupat Aneh” opens with a grooving rhythm guitar lick that could have found a place — for maybe eight seconds — on a classic mid-period Boredoms album like Chocolate Synthesizer. But instead of pivoting abruptly, OOIOO invites the riff to hang around. A straightforward decision, one that might conjure vague ideas of “maturity,” but Gamel still manages to provide ecstasy and surprise at nearly every turn.