(Entertainment Systems, 2015)
Oh god, I don’t know who i.o is! Like, at all! I tried to search for the artist online, but it’s pretty impossible given that Google doesn’t give a crap that I’ve dropped that period in between the “i” and the “o” like I’m supposed to. It gives me all these articles on Jupiter’s moon, and other artists that refer to themselves as Io, or iO, or I/O, or whatever. There’s even a link here for the Kayo Dot song “Coffins on Io” – which is OK in my book, I guess, because Kayo Dot’s pretty cool.
Anyway, this tape: “A collection of previously released compositions from multi-instrumentalist i.o” is all I’m getting at the moment, and I’m tired, because as I’m writing this I just watched the U.S. women’s national soccer team totally spank Japan 5-2 in the World Cup final, and I had some beer and did some shouting, so hey, gimme a break. The irony is that last.fm is suggesting that i.o is a Japanese j-pop rapper, so if the i.o that I’m listening to, quite clearly not a rapper, or vocalist in any way, is Japanese, I apologize for referring to the total beatdown as a “spanking” above. It’s not in my nature to piss anybody off on purpose.
All this background is my way of stalling as I listen to this remarkable tape. This is coming in nascent cassette label Entertainment Systems’s second batch, and if the first batch, released earlier this year, was any indication, we’d be in for quite a bit of spacey drone and experimental ambience. ES did that supremely well on that batch, but i.o’s first release on the label marks a distinct departure from that sound. The surprise was wildly welcome.
I thought “Untitled,” which leads off side A, would be a red herring, something to throw the listener off the scent, before the recordings would mellow back out into pastoral synth excursions. But the manic guitar and drum playing would prove to persist throughout, recalling anything from jazz to post rock to even metal with the double floor-tom bashing and virtuosic (but decidedly punk rock) distorted guitar leads. Multinstrumentalist indeed! I think i.o is either an octopus or he secretly has an entire band in his back pocket. I’m leaning toward the former. (Or that he’s really just a normal human recording onto multiple tracks…)
Moments like the seven-minute-long “Decay Transmissions” allow i.o to sprawl his playing over extended time frames, and here he’s able to add in the ambient noise of the recording studio (or room, wherever), allowing his guitar to feed back or the contacts of his cords to become part of the language. He also pipes in what sounds like otherworldly transmissions at the end of the track (he also does this on “Untitled”), allowing the listener to breathe between the freakouts. “Doom Link” is a full-track breather, though, with gently picked “indie”-sounding guitar overtop the song-length James Lo–inspired monkey-armed drum fills. It’s got a grounded, Joan of Arc vibe as well, but of course without any heavy-handed vocals. Still it’s relaxing, trust me!
If Entertainment Systems keeps cranking out the strange and unusual, I’ll be on board for the long haul. I loved their ambient releases, but this changes everything – i.o puts them in a totally different game. “Put Flame on Tiny Blue Flowers” is the poster child for the future – a marriage of punk, metal, and ambient guitar washes that works way better than it has a right to. I’m stoked by this one – you should be too.
RIYL: instrumental Joan of Arc, Ghosts and Vodka, Rodan, The Botanist