Oy: First Box, Then Walk
Creaked Records

A dizzying display of imagination, Oy's First Box, Then Walk is a giddy and effervescent roller-coaster ride of ideas and experiments. In this remarkably bold and assured debut, Joy Frempong (born in Bolgatanga, Ghana in 1978) showcases a wide range of vocal techniques and genre styles in a playful mix of jazz, blues, hip-hop, and electronic pop. She builds her experimental pop from a liberal array of electronic, acoustic, and found sounds and draws inspiration in doing so from childhood memories and an absurdist, dada-driven sensibility. There's an over-the-top quality to the album, with Frempong fearlessly wading into every kind of water no matter what lurks beneath the surface.

Four years in the making, First Box, Then Walk sounds like it was painstakingly assembled, with many of the twenty-six songs mini-set-pieces of peculiar and distinctive design. Some are fragments (the organ nightmare “Dangeroo”), some interludes ( the piano piece “World Whale”); most are in the two-minute range. Though most songs are vocal-based, there are instrumentals too (the rickety keyboard meander of “Kumakey”). There's gloopy hip-hop (“Sex”), low-riding funk (“Hatching”), a bluesy electro-chant (“Snake”), intricate vocal interplay (“Tooth”), plus accordion tomfoolery (“I'll Build My Church”) and a heady mix of Native chants, rhymes, and electronic mayhem (“First Box, Then Walk”). A macabre mix of creaky strings, recorders, and growls in “Trolls” evokes grumpy dwarfs stomping through the forest, while “Laundry” expresses Oy's envy for clothes in the washing machine (“Wow, it looks fantastic / How you move somewhat spastic / Oh, you dancing so fine / Bouncing in and out of time”). A small number of straight-faced moments are scattered amongst the oddities, including “Cloudy Gallery,” which plays it straight with three minutes of Oy emoting against a backdrop of piano lounge jazz. Straightest of all is a vocal-only reading of Billie Holiday's “God Bless the Child” that shows up as a hidden track at album's end. Though it obviously won't threaten to supplant Holiday's definitive version, Oy nevertheless aquits herself forcefully elsewhere on this hour-long opus.

February 2010