BY JENNIFER KELLY
Oneida, the great psychedelic kraut-groove outfit from Brooklyn, has returned to ecstatic, rhythm-driven form with Romance after a prolonged exploration of longer, more abstract compositions. Here again, for the first time since Rated O are the staticky, blurted keyboard riffs, held in tight formation by an endlessly repeated beat. Here are the explosive bursts of non-linear drumming, intervals of joyful chaos in a disciplined architecture. Here are the mournful, mystical vocals drifting up and away off of gleaming mechanical structures, a wondering, uncertain mind in the grip of a pulsing, pummeling body, a ghost in the machine. And those these explorations can go long (“Lay of the Land” judders on like a steam engine for more than ten minutes, “Shepherd’s Axe” bends light and sound into rainbows for well over 18), they are more like songs than Oneida’s recent work.
Consider, for instance, “All in Due Time” with its burp and fidget of conflicting keyboards, its expansive, horizon-extending drum build, its lucid dream-like narrative of candidates and their daughters, of love and poison. The voices splinter into pieces, so that a chorus in unison turns into a hall of mirrors doubled experience. You can get lost in this song, though it zooms inexorably forward; there are space-time bends in its relentless propulsion.
There’s a tension between tightly leashed iteration and euphoric release. Short patterns of sound execute over and over, in exactly the same way, but lead in their hemmed in hammering to wide-open escape hatches for the mind. Entropy is always lurking in the system, as in “Bad Habit” where the pummeling guitar riff moves in and out of sync with straight-fingered keyboard banging. They are almost together. They drift apart. They move in closer to alignment. It’s like watching a hand and its shadow, listening to a voice and its echo.
Oneida is a funny band, by which I mean that its members have always had a strange and infectious sense of humor, and you hear this in “Cockfight,” the “Captain Bo”-style banger that upends the album’s second side. More guitar, faster drums, rock-styled vocals (there’s a yelped “all right” and a few slurred and swaggering “baby”s) make this cut hark back to the old days, Secret Wars or even Anthem of the Moon, and it’s good to hear.
The disc is predominantly songs, with duration mostly under six minutes and recognizable melodic lines, even lyrics that enfold in a sort of verse/chorus structure, but it wouldn’t be Oneida if they didn’t take you on a trip. “Shepherd’s Axe” is a gorgeous, slow-motion closer, more like a Barn Owl track or Kandodo or even the Oneida of more recent years — of Absolute II, or A List of the Burning Mountains. They do this well, too, this gradual unfolding of gradiated tone, and “Shepherd’s Axe”, is a lovely track.
Of course, you can’t hold any band, much less a band like Oneida, to the early stuff. No matter how much you like what they used to do, going on from there, doing other stuff, is as much a part of Oneida’s DNA as hammered keyboards or head-banging repetition. Still, they’ve been in the long-form, drone-and-drift mode for a while now. It’s nice to hear them rock out a little, too. (Pictured below: a little clue for all you vinyl hunters out there.)
DOWNLOAD: “All in Due Time,” “Bad Habit” “Cockfight”