"A tree blossom is most revered in Western culture when it's in full bloom," Ioanna Gika says, "but there's so much beauty when it starts to decay and petals flow away into the wind like snow." The custom-kimono-wearing frontwoman for IO Echo and her bandmate Leopold Ross have an admitted obsession with all things Asian. Their synth-laden debut, "Ministry of Love" and the band's electric live performance are infused with an aesthetic some journalists call 'new Orientalism.' Something like this easily could be written off as pretentious art pop, but IO Echo manages to pull it off exquisitely.
Before releasing a full-length album, Gika and Ross were well known in creative circles for having scored "Rebel," a Harmony Korine film collaboration with James Franco as well as curating a music series at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles with Jeffrey Deitch. Trent Reznor even handpicked the band to open a show for Nine Inch Nails. The Los Angeles duo is quick to note that while they might seem well-connected, the album was created with minimal investment. "The reality is that we made this album on our laptops in a bedroom with no budget and we created our album art with an app, Decim8," Gika says.
While the two have drawn comparisons as varied as the Cocteau Twins and My Bloody Valentine, they're carving out a niche in a space where Old-World traditions spin against the latest technology yet still feel incredibly organic. Their debut set of songs is gorgeously textured, melding drum loops and gritty guitar riffs with elements such as Chinese violins and Japanese koto harp — the latter played by Gika, who learned the instrument when her family lived in Southeast Asia.
While there's a tremendous amount of attention paid to love and loss, Gika explains that the intent is to explore a full spectrum of emotion. "We're looking at all aspects of loss with the flip side being life, renewal and hope," she says. "It's not just a one-sided thing."
Speaking of multi-dimensions, the dizzying video for the album's title track is one of the first interactive experiences that allows the viewer to seamlessly create multiple versions through drag-and-click actions. The live show is a bit surreal as well, a hologram come to life with pastel hues and dramatic light flanking large Japanese fans and screens. "We put thought into it so that people can lose themselves in it," Gika says, "but not to the point where we can predict what happens onstage."
Even with all the care given to creating an audio-visual bonanza, the members of IO Echo swears they aren't über-serious shoe gazers all the time. "We started making music for fun," Gika says. "To this day, it really still feels like a hobby with no massive agenda." The singer acknowledges that she and Leo might be a little on the goth side, but both love a good laugh. "We're really into comedy. Really, we're not all doom and gloom," she adds. "There's inherent joy in us." S
IO Echo, the Joy Formidable and Fort Lean play the National on Saturday, May 11, at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $15-$18.