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Oneida - Secret Wars

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Artist: Oneida

Album: Secret Wars

Label: Jagjaguwar

Review date: Jan. 23, 2004

Blue/purple/pink/white color scheme. Polychromatic picture of a city with blobby people, fuzzy cars, and non-descript buildings. Maybe there’s snow on the ground, maybe there are clouds in the sky, or maybe it’s all just muck. It could almost be an infrared fake color picture thingamajig. Regardless, the scene wants rest, wants stasis, wants to be left to its own devices. Unlike the cover of Each One Teach One, with its frantic energy, high power, and implicit destruction (sure, it’s just a sunflower close-up, but it’s a powerful sunflower close-up), Secret Wars has the kind of surreal, suspended feel of that pause before the gun-fight in a Sergio Leone film.

Oneida takes that peace and runs with it for a second before going into a full out stoner-Kraut-sludge-prog-fest that they’re known for. Each One Teach One may have started with a riff and didn’t stop until the end of Side A, but Secret Wars begins in psych-pop mode. It’s still got a mammoth riff, but it’s buried in fuzz and a melody that strangely reminds me of an understated “Little Drummer Boy.” And then there are the drums. Neu! and Can are particularly popular points of comparison, and it makes sense after listening to drummer Kid Millions. His beats manage to be metronomic (listen for the high-hat in “Wild Horses”; it’s spot on beat throughout the entire song) without being repetitive, which says something in an age when minimal, repetitive drumming seems so in vogue.

After the light beginning, these dudes really turn it on, building off of Millions's beats with noisy guitars and synthesizers. The middle of the album bears a surprising resemblance to fellow Brooklynites Black Elf Speaks and USAISAMONSTER (who are almost the same band), both of whom represent a revival in a certain aspect of ’70s-style prog rock. While those bands embody an adherence to certain prog tropes, Oneida takes bits and pieces of that style both in the guitar, synths and vocals, and reapply them in a more frenetic setting. These ideas get batted around in increasingly different ways throughout the body of the album, in a schizophrenic mess of maypole folk and motorik drive that culminates in “the Winter Shaker” which merges the two into a single chord, pounded to death for four and a half minutes, while hobbit-rock vocals hover above the mix.

The disc ends right where Each One Teach One starts, making Secret Wars, in a way, its inverse. We’re talking a 15-minute monster stoner psych jam based on a single bass line that just keeps spinning and spinning until it engulfs the listener. It may not have the brutality of Each One’s opener, “Sheets of Easter,” but it definitely pounds away for its duration. Its slow burn actually fits in quite well with the album’s cover image, a kind of spaced-out, relaxed view of the world; the song is in no rush to get anywhere, letting solos accumulate over time until they reach their natural peak and then fade into nothingness.

We’ve reached a strange crossroads in the rock music world. No band ever sounds original, at least according to promo material and reviewers. As a music director at a college radio station, I see so many records that are described as sounding like such and such a band of yore who sound very little like the bands in reference. Critics don’t help any either. Instead of looking at what a record is trying to do, they so often turn to talking about who else the band sounds like, for lack of any real, concrete statements. We’re all vulnerable to it (hell, I dropped four band names in this review alone), but that doesn’t really help the state of music. If every band out there sounds like the Pixies, the Fall, PiL, or Neu!, then rock music has reached a sad, uncreative state. Association does not an album (or review) make.

Back to Oneida, they do manage to transcend the limitations of comparison. Sure, you can hear probably a dozen different bands in their sound, but that’s not what the music is predicated on. The whole idea of referentiality hinges on the synthesis of the disparate parts that make it up. While you will pick up parts of different bands in their sound, those pieces are just a starting point for progress. There’s a reason it generally takes a five-word phrase to describe Oneida (as opposed to a simple "rock" or "garage" or something). So just ignore the references and let the music speak for itself.

By Dan Ruccia

Other Reviews of Oneida

Each One Teach One

Nice. Splittin’ Peaches

The Wedding

Happy New Year

Preteen Weaponry

Rated O

A List of Burning Mountains

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View all articles by Dan Ruccia

Find out more about Jagjaguwar

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