Another year passes, and another brilliant Oneida album fails to make its mark on history. The placement of Oneida in the context of the current music scene remains a trying chore… after all, they are from Brooklyn, the 2000s’ mecca of hipster rock, and each release seems to be granted a slightly higher profile than the last—deservedly so, as everything the band has released since the turn of the millennium has been nothing short of spectacular. But the fact of the matter is that Oneida, who regularly repeat short fragments of psych-‘70s metal ad nauseum, as a scratched Iron Butterfly record might do, just don’t make sense. Likeminded prolific and trend-avoiding noise acts like Trans Am, Liars, or the Fucking Champs make the best comparison, because Oneida similarly take a terminally unhip reverence of the dirtier, more bombastic elements of heavy rock and meld it with both a modest indie tunefulness and a shit-eating grin aesthetic. So with such disregard of all the “cool” shit going on around them, Oneida remain overshadowed, regardless of how boldly they continue to push their sound forward.
And The Wedding is Oneida’s boldest move yet, though perhaps not as much of a departure as it might initially seem. On the surface, it is an album full of melodic rock songs with a trace of folk and—for these guys, at least—strong emotional sentiments; after all, they did once declare, “Sexless and single is no crime,” amongst a heady downpour of lyrical mind-indulgences. And even though half of the pieces on the album were written around the plinky melodies of a giant music-box the band built themselves, the result simply showcases a band systematically stretching out their fundamental ingredients, applying a well-defined aesthetic to a different musical environment and hitting paydirt.
“The Eiger” is the first of the music-box tracks, the majority of which have been boosted by string arrangements that nod faithfully to Oneida’s usual guitar-based style. Ascending melodies weave in and out of symphonic spirals, while Baby Jane (aka Hanoi Jane) sings sweetly, lacking his usual edge. The piece acts as a calculated prelude, alternating between shock tactic and palatable entry point. The sound is repeated often over the course of the album, most notably “Charlemagne” and the shortest, simplest track, “Know”. A whole album of this type of song would likely grow cloying and repulsive after several minutes; thankfully, Oneida know better, and spread the songs out.
The softer, nearly pastoral experiments elsewhere—mostly with music-box, but not as heavy on the strings—flesh out the core idea with greater success. “Run Through My Hair” is a hippie-ish folk song that plinks along pleasantly, and while there are some added guitar textures and underlying keyboard murmurs, the song remains raw and unadorned. On the other end of the spectrum, “High Life” matches a bold melody to bleepy, early synth sounds. Singer Jane channels XTC’s Colin Moulding here in both song and voice, but Oneida’s deep appreciation for the early ‘70s indicates that the influence may go back further, possibly Brian Wilson or Neil Young. And despite some familiar ingredients, such as the whinging analog keyboard sound that opens it, the dizzying “Lavender” acts as a testament to the band’s willingness to explore different time signatures and repetitive structures in their music. It brings their sound almost completely out of rock, even though it features drum patterns and percussive relentlessness carried over from the landmark 2002 recording, Each One Teach One.
But Oneida are still notoriously tireless rockers, and the meat of The Wedding demonstrates how they haven’t forgotten the ability to mine the psychedelic depths while banging out the fierce and the furious. An explosion of fuzzed-out, Foghat-like riffage, “Did I Die” is a prime slice of blues-heavy ‘70s metal deftly recreated, with Jane’s shrieking, angsty vocals summoning the ghost of Bon Scott. The sound is not new to Oneida, and represents a style that must be fun to play even if its basic entertainment value for the listener is short-term. It has a welcome balancing effect here. The thick, psych atmosphere of “Spirits” gives the album some necessary sonic depth; the bass and drums are treated to sound as electric as possible, while Jane wisely keeps his voice balanced on the crest of the noise, never overdosing the song or keeping it too earthbound. The varied rock styles come together later on “Heavenly Choir”. In fact, The Wedding‘s title could allude to the varying strains of Oneida’s songwriting blending seamlessly
...But perhaps not without some jarring juxtapositions. Following the crushingly dramatic space rock of the album’s climax (“The Beginning Is Nigh”, for which drummer Kid Millions deserves a lifetime achievement award), the hopeful tone of “August Morning Haze” might as well follow a nine-hour nap. Its air of sunrise doesn’t forgive the darkness that has since passed, but it does render it forgotten by leaving the upbeat tone of the music-box tracks as the final, lingering feel of the album. Appropriately, a wealth of introspective angst lies under the surface of The Wedding, like an engaged man unsure about the life-changing step he is about to take. Oneida’s advances here raise a promise without necessary fulfilling a commitment, allowing the band the opportunity to back away from the new elements of their sound if it ultimately fails to work for them.
// Notes from the Road
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