It’s wonderful to see Will Long, for so long associated with Celer, exploring an entirely new direction in Oh, Yoko, his group project with partner Rie Mitsutake (aka Miko, known for her full-length albums on Plop and Someone Good), with whom he manages the Normal Cookie and Bun Tapes labels. The fourteen songs on their debut Oh, Yoko album offer a striking blend of lo-fi vocal pop and electronic experimentalism, with all of it created from found sounds, toys, field recordings, and vintage electronic and acoustic instruments and recorded at their Tokyo home base. Sunny in spirit, the recording is marked by a playful and explorative sensibility, and seemingly documents Long and Mitsutake working through the process of pinning down the Oh, Yoko identity. Though the duo issued the Seashore EP earlier this year, it featured a single original only, making I Love You… the first in-depth presentation of the group’s sound.
Things start promisingly with “Heaven’s Gate,” a shimmering synthetic soundworld against which murmured vocals, acoustic guitar, and melodica intone, and gentle ballad-styled pieces and serene, entrancing settings for organ, synthesizers, and vocals (“Toumei,” “Daylight Lunch”) follow in quick succession. Lyrically, the songs are sincere and straightforward declarations about love, nature, and simple pleasures that Mitsutake typically sings softly in her native tongue though sometimes in English, too. Instrumentally, the music is often soothing in style and design, though an unexpected element occasionally surfaces, whether it be the ‘80s-styled drum machine rhythm coursing through “Grand Prix,” the relentless synth stab in “Keio Line,” or the warbly synthesizer fluttering through “I Did This, I Did That.” While most songs include singing, some are largely instrumental soundpaintings, such as “Song with Coyotes,” which accompanies field recordings (of nature sounds and, yes, coyote yelps) with melodica wheeze, kalimba plucks, and Mitsutake’s wordless musings. While an experimental radiophonic vignette like “Take-off” is interesting, the fifty-eight-minute album’s most affecting moments arise during traditionally designed songs such as “Boîte de nuit,” whose hazy lilt exudes a seductive aura reminiscent of Mazzy Starr, and “Radio Days,” whose soft, nostalgic glow evokes the feel of a ‘60s radio ballad.
That I Love You… is marked by an occasional non sequitur isn’t a crippling weakness; if anything, the abrupt shifts in mood and style from one song to the next keeps the listener on his/her toes waiting in anticipation for what comes next. Having said that, it is jarring to encounter “Newsbreak,” containing Paul McCartney’s infamous first public reaction to John Lennon’s death (“‘Drag, isn’t it?”), appearing amidst Oh, Yoko’s other songs, though, once again, the effect, though odd, isn’t unpleasant. If anything, the randomness is consistent with the duo’s desire to distill the everyday moments of home and city life into aural form, which they do repeatedly on this consistently endearing recording.