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Oneida - Happy New Year

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Artist: Oneida

Album: Happy New Year

Label: Jagjaguwar

Review date: Aug. 3, 2006

It is wholly fitting that Oneida starts their latest offering with “Distress,” a fucked up, faux-Gregorian Chant surrounding by electronic burbles and a slightly misplaced martial drum-beat. In recent times, their sound has gone through so many permutations that it’s almost, almost gotten hard to tell what to expect from them. They defined their formula in the dual bombasts of Each One Teach One and Secret Wars - the merging of post-krautrock grooves with a relentless sense of repetition and the willingness to eschew (or not) melodies in favor of bludgeoning you into submission. Secret Wars added a bit of psych-folk to the scheme, creating an even greater hybrid in tracks like “The Last Act, Every Time,” while still keeping the breakneck rockingness. All that changed starting with the Nice. / Splittin’ Peaches EP in late 2004, with a complete rebirth in their last album, The Wedding. The motorik grooves were still somewhat there, but they got subsumed by faire-folk light rock; the electric guitar and organ were joined by strings, acoustic instruments, and a hypothetical giant music box.

The only thing linking that album with this one, though, is its holiday-themed title. “Distress,” with its mess of atmosphere, takes the folksiness of The Wedding and sublimates it back into the sound world of Secret Wars, something the rest of the album takes and runs with. In fact, you could easily call this the sequel to Secret Wars - it has the same mix of baked acoustics, crushing organ and electric guitar lines, staccato vocals, and a meditative finale built around interlocked piano and drums. But since there is no treading water with Oneida, they do throw a couple twists into the formula. “Pointing Fingers” dispenses with beats entirely and builds the song around an overdriven electric something-or-other, though it’s little more than a break (read: throwaway) between the rockers that surround it. The proportions of elements change from track to track, making the album both scattered and unified. And in a way, it’s the most mature Oneida record to date.

I’m not a big believer in the notion that external circumstances should be brought into discussions of music. While context can be important, it often bogs down the real topic (the sound coming out of your speakers) under the weight of extraneous information. But in this case, the outside world does figure into the music Oneida is making: their long-time homemade studio is being demolished to make way for a mall. So it makes sense for them to be at least a little retrospective or nostalgic. And it shows. Oneida and friends (Phil Manley of Trans Am/The Fucking Champs, Shahin Motia of the Ex-Models, and others) are clearly having a good time with this album, playing around with the memes they’ve created over the past few albums. While their greatness has yet to be called into question, the next step will really show if Hanoi Jane, Bobby Matador and Kid Millions have anything new left in their tank. For now, this is a good reminder of why everyone likes them in the first place.

By Dan Ruccia

Other Reviews of Oneida

Each One Teach One

Secret Wars

Nice. Splittin’ Peaches

The Wedding

Preteen Weaponry

Rated O

A List of Burning Mountains

Read More

View all articles by Dan Ruccia

Find out more about Jagjaguwar

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