Oneida are sneaky. Without most people realizing it, they somehow crept into being one of the best bands out there around the time of 2004’s Secret Wars, an album so rich and eventful and simultaneously weird and rocking that even the band which made it sometimes feels recently like they’ve been playing catch-up. The Wedding and Happy New Year both took their eternally wandering muse in a more overtly psychedelic direction, and found the band in fine form. Now they’re going back.
But to what? The flippant answer might be to the light light light light light light, at least if you’ve heard their exquisitely punishing 2002 album Each One Teach One and more specifically the opening fourteen-minute pummel, “Sheets of Easter” (the first song to really build on what Spacemen 3 did with “Suicide”). Preteen Weaponry is one 39-minute composition in three parts, not as unrelenting as “Sheets of Easter” or its companion “Antidotes” were, but certainly largely akin to them. The relative mellowness of the band’s last few albums appears to have rubbed off onto this one, although the howling feedback as part one of “Preteen Weaponry” opens might throw you off a bit. As the music toys around with Indian modalities and vaguely “tribal”-sounding drum thump, even as it remains almost fiercely repetitive, you might start thinking of Amon Duul II or Ash Ra Tempel, which is fair. Another good point of comparison might be the sui generis Australian trio The Necks. In a recent issue of The Wire they lamented that more people have tried out their compositional methods (which feel somewhere between improvisation and composition, and focus on gradual change), and damn if it doesn’t feel a bit like Oneida might have stumbled there on their own.
The result goes all over the place as much as any ruthlessly focused track can; the second part is certainly much less busy, and the third movement with its odd tones and gnashing drums begins to sound a bit like Two Lone Swordsmen’s memorably gonzo remix of Spiritualized’s “Come Together,” but if you’re not paying attention, you’re almost certain not to notice when the track index changes. This is one long journey, but it’s a remarkably consistent one (it’s interesting to note they’re apparently playing the album live, as you wonder how strictly they follow the text when replicating it), for better and for worse. It makes Preteen Weaponry a very hate-it-or-love-it effort, although Krautrock/comische music/whatever exactly you want to try calling this thing is rare and outré enough that it shouldn’t be very hard to know if you’re going to like it. If you’re into this particular form of mind expansion, Oneida can be trusted; if not, it doesn’t really matter how good they are.
Preteen Weaponry isn’t just an album and a three-part track, however; it’s also the first part in a trilogy that, according to the sticker on the album, “will lay bare the band’s colossal vision of a new age in music.” Given Oneida’s repeated insistence in interviews that they don’t have huge ambitions in terms of this whole music career thing, and also given that this particular missive is satisfying but not exactly worldshaking or innovative, you have to wonder whether they’re just being snarky. Either way, there is apparently a triple album on the way soon, as well as a third part being readied for later. Oneida have already issued works exciting, varied, and original enough to serve as a blueprint to some sort of “new age” for their peers; we can only hope this “Thank Your Parents” trilogy gets more radical as time goes on.