February 5, 2004

Test Spin: Oneida

Print More

One time, not too long ago, Oneida played a show at Cornell. As they hopped out of their white van, which had just rolled into the cul-de-sac behind J.A.M., they introduced themselves as Bobby, Kid, and Jane. These were the stage names: Bobby Matador, Kid Millions, and Hanoi Jane. When we asked something along the lines of, “No, really, what’re your names?,” with an eye particularly aimed at the balding man who called himself Jane. Oneida simply smiled and replied just as they had the first time we asked. Bobby. Kid. Jane.

Their freedom to play with their actual identities parallels the liberties they take with their music. Shaping densely layered and hypnotically repetitive layers of noise, Oneida approaches the architecture of their songs with more freedom than most other bands, even in the psych genre. It’s as if their conception of music is broader than most others. Instead of a melodic hook or a catchy chorus, the band is more likely to win the listener over with the sheer magnitude of their sound. Their pummeling drones send hallucinogenic spasms afflicting the mind.

On their latest release, Secret Wars, Oneida jump from one rhythmic seizure to the next, combining punctuating and melodic sounds that are at once abrasive but repeated so often that they somehow become inviting. Compared to the double-digit length, ear-melting freakouts of Each One Teach One, Secret Wars presents the more accessible side of Oneida. (Accessible is a relative term in the context of psych-noise rock.)

For example, though “Treasure Plain” begins with an off-kilter cycle of distorted guitar and hard-hitting drum, the song gradually travels into the more traditional terrain of layered vocals and intensifying drums. Oneida’s composition feels tightly wound and directed — it takes you someplace — as opposed to the disorienting flux of EOTO.

In the end, Oneida accomplish a difficult task. They reach the highs of psych rock on a pop timetable.

Archived article by Andrew Gilman