Oneida has emerged as one of the more compelling groups around over the past few years. Save for 2003, the prolific Brooklyn-based band has released a full-length album each year since 1999, and this current release is their third EP during that time span. With too many bands taking far too long between efforts, it's nice to see a band that's able to bash out an album per year while still maintaining a respectable touring schedule, as Oneida does. The constant process of writing and playing music has helped them create a sound that's not easily classifiable, but is very much their own, which not too many bands can claim. That sound fuses elements of psych, prog, garage, punk and basically any genre of rock music that could be considered difficult listening by people who like pop songs.
After the sustained peak of their last three albums -- Anthem of the Moon , Each One Teach One and Secret Wars -- it was reasonable to have high expectations for Nice./Splittin' Peaches , despite the fact that it is obviously just a filler EP, meant to tide fans over until the May release of their next full-length. The fact that it's on Ace Fu and not Jagjaguwar -- the label that has handled all of Oneida's releases except for their debut and a split EP with Liars -- should have been a hint that this wouldn't be up to the standards Oneida recently created for itself. After all, it's hard to see Jagjaguwar letting the band take a killer release to another label.
And Nice./Splittin' Peaches certainly isn't as good as anything in the recent Oneida discography. But that doesn't mean it's devoid of interesting moments. One of Oneida's strange charms is that even when they make music that isn't all that enjoyable, it's still somewhat intriguing. There's a sense of the unknown that permeates their work, as if at any second they can launch into some spastic, keyboard-driven, noise freakout,or they can pound away on the same riff for the next four minutes.
"Inside My Head" instantly becomes one of the more straightforward pop tunes in the Oneida songbook, and is the highlight of this EP. It's one of the rare Oneida songs to contain an actual vocal melody, and it also features the pretty hilarious opening lyric, "I can tell you love your ass / cause your hands in your pockets hold on the sass." The tune is very reminiscent of Enon's electro-rock, in the sense that it could easily be a simple rock song, but there's enough knob-twiddling going on to ensure that the first thing your ears pick up will be the keyboard whirr that cuts through the mix.
Opener "Summerland", which kicks off with an ominous drone that would fit well at the beginning of any dark drum 'n' bass track before and ends with a free-jazz saxophone freakout is a perfect example of Oneida being interesting if not agreeable. The reason this EP is ultimately a disappointment, though, is that 15 of its 23 minutes are taken up by the closing track, "Hakuna Matata", which, I've been told, means "no worries."
All recent Oneida releases have featured at least one 10-plus minute track and usually it's a highlight, as it finds the band doing its best to honor the legend of "Sister Ray." But "Hakuna Matata" is as close to a failure as the band has ever come. There is not a single tempo change over the entire 15 minutes, just the same gently pulsating drums, accompanied by otherworldly atmospheric moaning. By the sixth minute you think that this surely has to start going somewhere soon. Maybe some guitar will be thrown into the mix, anything. But by the ninth minute it's apparent that this is just the most boring and self-indulgent song Oneida has recorded. By the twelfth minute you'll be longing for the Nathan Lane-sung original. Oneida has always been capable of leaving you with a variety of feelings regarding its work. Leaving you wishing for Nathan Lane certainly isn't one of the more positive reactions they've evoked, though.