Yoko Ono, Between My Head and the Sky (Chimera Music)
When I told a friend I was reviewing the new Yoko Ono album, she sarcastically said, “Have fun with that.” It surprised me that, after punk rock, free jazz, so much experimental noise, and all manner of pop and rock weirdness, the idea that Yoko Ono is unlistenable still has currency.
She has nevertheless found some well-earned credibility. Critic Gillian Gaar went so far as to credit her with starting punk. She was certainly prescient, embodying punk’s spirit: Anyone can make music, if you really feel it.
Ono never was unlistenable, but she strove to unsettle. Her latest album, Between My Head and the Sky, continues the ethereal string she has been riding forever. All her songs are basically stream-of-consciousness rants; they live and die on whether the band can translate these effectively. And Ono has been lucky enough to work with some phenomenal, empathetic musicians. On Between she works once again with her son, Sean Lennon, Yuka Honda of Cibo Matto, and the Japanese electronic musician Cornelius.
The group works well, providing funk riffs, electronic blips and bleeps, elegiac piano and horns lines, and noise for Ono to work off of. Ono’s voice is fairly flat, but she’s remarkable at pulling emotion and nuance out of it. “Memory of Footsteps” is beautiful and tender; “Feel the Sand” is soothing.
Of course, there’s a reason Ono has a reputation for shrieking. She’s good at it and anyone who has heard her do it won’t forget it. She is mostly restrained on Between, perhaps because it’s harder to perform vocal acrobatics at her age; on some tracks her voice is augmented with echo effects. But the few times she lets loose—“The Sun Is Down” or “Calling”—she carries you away.