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Oneida - Rated O

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Artist: Oneida

Album: Rated O

Label: Brah

Review date: Jul. 6, 2009

Rated O is the second installment in Oneida’s long-promised Thank Your Parents, a trilogy in three unequal parts. The first chapter, Preteen Weaponry, comprised a single song that was really an unswerving freeway jams. A year ago, this correspondent found it underwhelming, but it grows on you in the same way certain Can albums (Soon Over Babaluma, Flow Motion) do, with passages that initially seem bland or underdone revealing subtle riches if you just play ‘em often enough. So ask me a year from now and I may say something quite different about Rated O. But today, it looks like an indulgent, overstuffed and intermittently brilliant mess.

Mind you, indulgence is an Oneida hallmark. Kid Millions, Hanoi Jane, Bobby Matador, and whoever has signed on with them for a given album (O’s notes acknowledge the contributions of two additional band members and seven guests) have never taken the easy path. Devote a quarter of an album to one hammered chord? Plunk a plodding Sabbath-style rocker in the middle of your most tuneful material? Find a groove and hold like no one else is listening? They’ve done all that and more, and done it well enough to earn either respect or love depending on a listener’s comfort with his or her own prog tendencies.

So indulgence isn’t a problem; it’s actually essential to another key Oneida quality that I like to call what-the-fuckness. They’re supremely gifted at making something that makes you wonder what they were thinking, and they do it in spades here. The first time I played disc one, I had to check to make sure it was really Oneida on the hi-fi. “Brownout In Lagos” opens the record with a volley of dancehall bass, electronic explosions and dubbed-out chanting by one Dad-Ali Ziai. It is chased by a wigged-out bait ‘n’ switch called “What’s Up, Jackal?” whose opening gambit, a typically restless Oneida drum beat, falls away to reveal more echo-drenched shouting, a dancehall-derived sequencer pattern, and more explosive noise. What the fuck? There’s one mission accomplished.

The quality and confusion remain high for another 25 minutes of organ and synth-dominated exploration. But the album hits a wall in the screaming second half of “The Human Factor,” which fails to ameliorate its abrasiveness with anything rewarding. Things stay patchy through the second disc, which is more vocal/guitar oriented. Taken one at a time, these songs sound like Oneida has often sounded. And they aren’t without reward. “Luxury Travel” jacks up the WTF-meter by mixing monk-like chanting with malevolent passes of copter-like electronics, evoking an aura of stoned ceremony reminiscent of the Electric Prunes’ “Kyrie Eleison.” “Ghost In The Room” and “I Will Haunt You” deliver some classic rock-worthy guitar gestures. But “It Was A War” just feels like sub-Stooges, and the tune sequence lacks the undeniability of the first platter’s opening 35 minutes.

Like the prizefighter who comes out from behind upheld mitts to land the match-winning blow, Oneida pull it together on disc three. Sitar and guitar dance like double reed and snake on “O,” coiling and uncoiling, deliciously decadent. Then they crash into a black hole of sullen industrial goo. “End of Time” is sticky as tar, but it supplies the necessary moment of penultimate stasis after which a headlong, 20-minute hurtle makes perfect sense. Synths whiz and swoop through “Folk Wisdom’s” aggressive but shockingly graceful drum barrage, then bank and wheel around diminished but still lethal guitar jabs like two species of bats jockeying for flight space in the same cave.

Still unanswered is exactly why we should thank our parents, or indeed where Oneida intends to take us. Will Rated O’s wrong turns turn out to be forays needed to establish the groundwork for some grand gesture in the final chapter? Tune in next year.

By Bill Meyer

Other Reviews of Oneida

Each One Teach One

Secret Wars

Nice. Splittin’ Peaches

The Wedding

Happy New Year

Preteen Weaponry

A List of Burning Mountains

Read More

View all articles by Bill Meyer

Find out more about Brah

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