Music

Oneida: Rated O

Photo: Lisa Corson

Over the course of three fuzzed-out discs, there's one solid Oneida album to be found in here; you just have to wade through some indulgent, excessive, and flat-out boring instrumental passages to get to it.


Oneida

Rated O

Label: Jagjaguwar
US Release Date: 2009-07-07
UK Release Date: 2009-07-13
Label Website
Artist Website
Amazon
iTunes

The wonderful thing about a band like Oneida is that they're damn-near impossible to classify. Unfortunately, this is also their greatest weakness.

Since 1997, this group of heavy-rocking Brooklynites have been delivering their own unique brand of stoner-rock to the masses, jumping around from genre-to-genre just because they can (Krautrock? Why not!), no two records ever sounding the same. They don't go for "quirky" genre deviations, however, like the kind that Ween occasionally succumbs to. They make straight-ahead, "serious" rock music, and since they rarely use humor as an "easy out" for justifying their stylistic left turns, what we end up with is a band that is forced to make bold, bold choices with their sound, because otherwise their music would collapse under the weight of its own eclecticism.

For each time it feels Oneida is about to get lost in their own bluesy haze of bong smoke, however, they drop a left-field gem that makes you completely reconsider what this group is capable of. A prime example of this is how their excellent 2005 disc The Wedding ends with the positively Beatles-esque tune "August Morning Haze", replete with gently sawing string sections and group vocals. Even last year's slept-upon Preeteen Weaponry exhibited a group at the peak of their instrumental rock powers, capable of riding grooves out for well over 14 minutes and -- against all odds -- making these epic tracks work, each movement containing its own unique arc and texture.

Unfortunately, it's achievements like these that make Rated O a profound disappointment in comparison.

The second part of their proposed "Thank Your Parents" trilogy, Rated O is a three-disc (!) opus that is at once darker than Preteen Weaponry and far, far less interesting. Coming off more as a series of rough sketches than a group of carefully constructed songs, Rated O is heavy on basic electronic sounds mixing with thick slabs of guitar fuzz, the tracks rarely adhering to any sort of coherent structure, as if the band is jamming just for the sake of jamming and recording the end results. In truth, Rated O is the sound of Oneida at their most uncompromising, which, sadly, means that they're at their most meandering and formless as well.

Disc one opens with "Brownout in Logos", which rides a simple electro thump that's not too dissimilar to M.I.A.'s "Pull Up the People" (of all things), cascading sound effects melding with some cowbell work and all the distortion that the band could muster. Though some chants and shouts come in half-way through, "Brownout in Logos" is a lazy, meaningless track that features next to nothing in terms of melody or momentum. The group simply moves from one melodic phrase to the next without any sense of unity or direction. This template continues on for a majority of the first disc, and though it's great to hear tracks like "10:30 at the Oasis" go from analogue keyboard ditties to full on '80s-indebted prog-styled epics at the drop of a hat, there is a complete lack of dynamics within the song. The middle portion keeps repeating the same guitar lick for about four minutes before devolving into a broken-record fuzz motif that would make Trent Reznor jealous were it not for the fact that it's repeated ad nauseum for another three minutes after the fact. These stylistic deviations don't hold the novelty they once did, as it now feels as if they're made just because the band is trying to fill some sort of self-imposed quota.

After a while, you begin to wonder if this is the same Oneida that we've known since the turn-of-the-millennium, as even at their worst they never did a track as mindlessly indulgent as "The Story of O" or as pedestrian as the drum-and-vocal workout "The Human Factor". The very last track of this three-disc monstrosity, "Folk Wisdom", feels like an extended remake of Pink Floyd's "Let There Be More Light" but with all of the interesting bits removed, its 20-minute running time marking one of the low-points of the group's otherwise-fine catalog.

Which then leads us to the curious nature of Rated O's second disc. Composed of more "traditional" structures (choruses, vocals with lyrics, etc.), Rated O's second act feels carefully considered, managing to rock out without once ever feeling too calculated. The keyboard-laced chorus to "The River"? The brief appearance of a multi-tracked choir in the middle of "I Will Haunt You"? The delightfully strange blues-samba groove that dominates "Saturday'? This is the Oneida we've come to know and love, capable of creating songs that are dramatic as they are distorted, engaging as they are replayable (and imitatable). Though disc two doesn't necessarily push the group's sound in any new directions, this part of Rated O serves as somewhat of a caveat for the insanity that surrounds it, a reminder to fans that they're still capable of crafting straight-ahead rock gems when they feel like it, even as they're bitten by the curious bug of experimentation.

As easy as it is to write off the first and third discs of Rated O as being overly indulgent, however, there are still some fantastic moments to be found on each of them. "What's Up Jackal?" (from the first disc) is an electronic number that could easily serve as the foundation for some long-lost Chemical Brothers track, while the disc three opener "O" is a druggy instrumental piece where sitars mix with vintage keyboards to create one hazy instrumental cocktail. It's during these fleeting moments of fancy that we feel like Oneida has never lost sight of their ability to push their sound to new and unexpected directions, making the rest of the tracks on those respective discs sound positively lifeless by comparison.

Of course, there are still several questions that linger following a straight-ahead listen to Rated O (why did they need three discs to give us music that could easily have easily been put onto two, given that all the albums collectively clock in at under two hours?), but the end result is the same: over the course of three fuzzed-out discs, there's one solid Oneida album to be found in here. You just have to wade through some indulgent, excessive, and flat-out boring instrumental passages to get to it.

5

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

'We're Not Here to Entertain' Is Not Here to Break the Cycle of Punk's Failures

Even as it irritates me, Kevin Mattson's We're Not Here to Entertain is worth reading because it has so much direct relevance to American punks operating today.

Film

Uncensored 'Native Son' (1951) Is True to Richard Wright's Work

Compared to the two film versions of Native Son in more recent times, the 1951 version more acutely captures the race-driven existential dread at the heart of Richard Wright's masterwork.

Music

3 Pairs of Boots Celebrate Wandering on "Everywhere I Go" (premiere)

3 Pairs of Boots are releasing Long Rider in January 2021. The record demonstrates the pair's unmistakable chemistry and honing of their Americana-driven sound, as evidenced by the single, "Everywhere I Go".

Books

'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.

Music

Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".

Music

PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor
Film

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.

Music

Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.

Music

Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.

Music

Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.

Music

Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.

Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.