by carl wilson

The Alpha and the Oneida

Today's column made Mrs Zoilus blush, she tells me, which seems a good sign. Oneida fans, pardon the genteel approach to your riff-stomping, brain-melting heroes. Let me add: Not only an object of philosophical contemplation about life, love and the shortcomings of utopian communalism, they're also fucken loud.

Rereading the piece I notice there's one point that didn't quite get made the way I meant: Referring to the deep brain imprint left by the "Big Albums" of stadium rock, I was thinking that by building most songs on a single riff that's reiterated throughout, Oneida's invented a technique to stimulate that classic-rock familiarity, so that a couple of minutes into any one of their songs, it's as if you're already listening to something you know. The trick is to make it also seem like something you love, and Oneida hits that one by putting so much desperate passion into the riff every time it's played, as if they almost can't do it again, so even when you hear the same three-note figure for the 40th time in the song, it still seems like there's a lot at stake. And of course the texturing and oddmentation that shifts and breaks and pings against the riff throughout each song keeps it responsive instead of monotonous.

Also couldn't work in the witticism I found somewhere in Christgau's files: As a former free-love commune that turned into a corporate tableware company, Oneida Ltd. is the 19th century's closest equivalent to the Grateful Dead.

(And like Dead Inc., Oneida Ltd. is still touchingly proud of its countercultural past, tho they don't get into details. My idea of the co.'s current prosperity seems to have been a tad exaggerated. Anway, the Oneida Community story is uproarious; somebody should turn it into, like, a sung-through musical.)

Further to the Oneida fans: Since this was an intro kind of piece, I didn't throw much out about what distinguishes Secret Wars from the previous albums. It's a little less aggressive, but it's notable how much more like Steve Reich/early Phil Glass their brand of minimalism has become, with motifs being replaced by others through a series of clever time-phasing tricks, so that music that seems unchanging can end up radically different a few minutes later. As well, while Each One Teach One assigned the pop-song Oneida and the abstract-machine Oneida to different discs, here you get to witness them in action simultaneously in the same song quite frequently, especially in Caesar's Column. That song includes my favourite sonic moment on the disc, when one of the Oneidans does a subtle and pretty funny bit of mouth percussion along with Kid Million's intense drumming. I also like the gongs and ukeleles and other off-message shit they throw in. $50 Tea is a choice cut. And the shift from quartet to trio looks good on them, too, clearing a little space for the better touches to get noticed and, I suspect, forcing them to make more inventive choices than when they could just barrel ahead.

On the other hand, the vocals aren't as good as they were when Papa Crazee was there. (He's now departed for alt-country-psych project Oakley Hall, which I'm eager to check.) And I'm not sure if this is new or not, but the lyrics pretty much suck, full of little acid-head advice and homilies. It says a lot that I, pathological Lyric Guy, don't actually mind.

The Writ | Posted by zoilus on Thursday, August 19 at 05:12 PM | Linking Posts


Zoilus by Carl Wilson