Oneida – Absolute II

January 01, 1970



Even long-time Oneida
fans, trained over multiple albums to expect the unexpected, may balk at the
radical minimalism of this album.  Put it
simply: Everything you think of as Oneida-ness is missing.


Particulars?  Kid Millions, one
of experimental rock’s best and most distinctive drummers, has completely
abandoned his kit. There are no audible drums in any of these tracks, and in
the closing cut, no rhythm, no marking, even of the passage of time. You can hear Millions singing, faintly,
discontinuously, as if through a helicopter rotor in “Horizon,” the only track
with vocals. Still, the whispery folksiness, so at odds with Oneida’s pummeling propulsiveness, is nowhere
in sight. Other core members are likewise disguised.  Hanoi Jane who laid down the bass that drove Oneida’s earlier material
into infinite groove had disappeared into a miasma of electronic hum. Fat Bobby
is, undoubtedly, still manning a stack of keyboards, but not with the kind of
motoric, two-finger keyboard riffs that pushed “$50 Tea” and other songs over
into manic overdrive.   Instead, keyboard
tones lie in limpid pools, one note lapping over another, with no sense of
motion or urgency. If Rated O made
you realize how many different sides Oneida
had, Absolute II hints at as yet
unexplored dimensions. We are a long,
long way from “All-Arounder. “


Absolute II is intended as
the final segment of the Thank Your
triptych, which in 2008 with Preteen
, swelled to epic proportions with last year’s Rated O and now sidles off into the ether with shapeless, formless,
yet curiously compelling Absolute II.
This four-track disc begins with its most accessible offering, “Pre-Human.” The
piece follows a four-note keyboard riff, stacked two to a measure, for more
than five unvarying moments. Other keyboards play above and beneath this
central motif, one subterranean and almost subliminal, nudging up from the
track’s murky bottom, the other scattering eerie space sounds and ghostly
shards of melody over its surface. As this goes on for about half the track’s
duration, continuation seems to be the main idea. That is, whatever this is, it
can persist, perhaps indefinitely. But, suddenly, then it stops, the forward
rhythm dissolving into a hum and hiss of tone.  You think you have gotten to the bottom of Oneida’s subtractive
minimalism in the first half of “Pre-Human,” that you have adjusted and even
begun to hear its repetition as song. Then the band subtracts that, and you are
forced to readjust to an even less populated art.  This process continues through “Horizon”‘s
machine drone and electrical hiss, through the shocking, violent crashes that
punctuate mostly silent “Gray Area” and finally into the glacial swells and
recessions of sound that mark “Absolute II”. Less become less and still less
and finally almost nothing at all, as you dive deeper and deeper in this this
sightless, featureless landscape.


Absolute II requires
adjustment, a level of attention that has to become keener even as musical
signposts like rhythm, melody, key and motif fade into the fog. And yet, oddly,
it rewards this greater scrutiny. You follow faint trails, paths that may not
even be paths, and if you get lost,
you won’t be the first. You get the sense that Oneida wandered, too, as they made these
tracks, pushing on when they’d gone past their limits and gaping at what they
saw beyond them.




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