Wednesday, February 11, 2004

ONEIDA - SECRET WARS (Rough Trade / Jagjaguwar)

After the grand musical manifestos of their previous two albums, 2001's "Anthem of the Moon" and 2002's "Each One Teach One" (the notoriety of latter's monumental, aneurysm inducing freakout Sheets of Easter circulating via word of mouth much like the drug that inspired its title), Oneida's latest work is not only their shortest record in a while, it's also a little more laidback and, well, un-revolutionary than its predecessors. It's certainly the first Oneida album which doesn't present us with an expectation-defying quantum leap from what came before it, but in a lot of ways that's no bad thing. Given the band's hardcore work ethic, their conscious dedication to never repeating themselves and their ability to consistently create music that's almost pathological in it's hyperactive intensity, nobody's going to begrudge them this opportunity to take it (relatively) easy and explore in greater detail some of the fucked up new territory they ploughed their way through on previous adventures into the unknown. After all, following a straight path of development, where could you possibly go after Sheets of Easter except straight into utter oblivion?

Now, a description of the 'Oneida Sound' for those of you unacquainted with it:
Imagine if you will an extension of the experimental sounds and rhythms generated by the likes of Can and the Silver Apples, doing for the use of organs and keyboards in rock what bands like Sonic Youth did for guitars, and discovering a whole world of alien new noise in the process. To this add beautiful psychedelic melodies and druidic vocals evoking similar fantastical imagery and dark, distant worlds to the Grateful Dead or Hawkwind in their respective primes, but with the noodling hippie shit kicked out in favour of New York post-punk urgency, never losing sight of the pulsing, paranoid beat provided by drum-hero Kid Millions, with added echos of underground noise rock chaos and aggression... that's the best I can do I'm afraid, although it doesn't really begin to cover the depths of Oneida's singular groove.

And this is indeed the formula superbly executed on this album's first two cuts, Treasure Plane and Caesar's Column, both of them amongst the most relaxed songs Oneida have recorded, and their respective lyrical themes as intriguing as the titles suggest. After this, we get to the frantic electro-punk blast of Capt. Bo Dignifies the Allegations with a Response, bringing them as close as they ever get to the no-wave mentalism of much of the rest of New York's rock underground. This is followed in turn by the more guitar-based Wild Horses (sadly not a Stones cover) on which Oneida casually define an absolutely exquisite psychedelic rock sound, sounding not unlike fellow psyche revivalists Dead Meadow, or a heavily tranquillised version of their own classic rock knockabouts from 2000's "Come On Everybody Let's Rock!" album. And then, despite the song's obvious potential for an acid-fried epic, they cheekily call it a day after only a couple of minutes. $50 Tea meanwhile reverts to the synapse-frying hyperactivity of "Each One Teach One", swirling voices inviting us 'beyond the garden' as shrieking great piles of electro-jazz noise explode all over the place. From the title I was expecting maybe a tirade against rip-off city prices, but judging from the track itself I think there's maybe something in the tea that makes it worth $50. The baroque mandolin abuse and faux-folk chanting of The Last Act, Every Time recalls the early Grateful Dead more strongly than ever, which is a difficult comparison to make cos it'll undoubtedly turn off a lot of people instantly, but hey, their loss. This song possibly takes Oneida deeper into the fantasy world of the gatefold '70s album cover of your dreams than ever before, and is all the better for it. The Winter Shaker by contrast adopts a droning Black Sabbath-esque tempo, but wisely keeps the guitars to a minimum, the inhuman Suicide-on-acid keyboard dirges kicking us out of the garden and into some sort of icy, scorched earth wasteland. Gnarly. Closing track Changes in the City finally delivers on the epic that the previous tracks have promised - slower in pace than some of Oneida's previous freakout tracks, it's nevertheless a monstrous fifteen minutes of kaleidoscopic mutant noise that ranks amongst the best of the band's longer, um, compositions.

Actually, despite all that jive earlier on about this being an un-revolutionary Oneida album, I really think "Secret Wars" is one of the best things they've ever done.. I mean, reread the above paragraph - does that sound 'unrevolutionary' to you?? Sure, 'Secret Wars' isn't going to give anybody a heart attack, but it's so well realised, it's got so much depth, some of the best lyrics they've ever written and some of the freakiest noise, so many weird little mysteries to uncode. Even more so than "Anthem of the Moon" it is a truly (yeah, I know I'm overusing this word appallingly) psychedelic record. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to get lost in it...

Review by Ben at 2:00 pm
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Monday, February 09, 2004
Gorky's Zygotic Mynci - Sleep/Holiday (Sanctuary)

For the last few years, Gorky's Zygotic Mynci have been furrowing their own field, pushing on down their own peculiar route. is an overused term, but there are probably specific elements that can be found in the music of those artists who get lumped together under it. Gorky's have been travelling down the path less-travelled, and have created their own little world of alt.folk. Sleep/Holiday continues this journey.

For the most part, it's very, very good, combining the pure pop sensibilities of Spanish Dance Troupe with the acoustic The Blue Trees to great effect. Mow the Lawn's rock 'n' roll standard, for example, recalls Poodle Rockin', and the woozy sway of Happiness is a close relative of The Humming Song.

That's not to say that there's no progression in their sound. Country does precisely what you'd expect a song with that title to, and does so wonderfully. A short (under two minutes) violin-led jig, it is - like many of their previous highlights - an ode to the Green. Gorky's are at their best when they're playing pretty, deliriously tuneful songs, and this is a prime example. It's the logical next step on from The Blue Trees' rural acoustics.

The other stand-out track on the record is undoubtedly Eyes of Green, Green, Green. Again, it has the lightness of touch and sheer, unadulterated joy for love and life that are present throughout the best Gorky's moments. It's just a shame that they've also rediscovered their old addiction to meandering, pointless songs which are largely free of what makes their best songs so good - the hook.

Two tracks in a row threaten to ruin the experience. The first is Only Takes a Night, the second Pretty as a Bee. Both are woefully overlong (6:36 and 9:28, respectively) and neither has much substance. ..Bee is especially poor, the first six and a half minutes consisting of two slow notes repeated over and over. The eventual appearance of a tune is a relief, but can't make up for the boredom that precedes it.

These two tracks are bookended by a couple which follow a similar formula, but do so much more effectively. Leave My Dreaming and Red Rocks are both slow, languorous pieces, but possess a character and substance that is missing from the songs they surround. The former starts like a Beach Boys instrumental and opens up into a sweet melody and some Wilson-style harmonising; the latter is a quiet, fractured track, largely consisting of nothing more than piano and voice, that closes the album in a blanket of simple warmth.

It's still a grand record, just not one that I'd be pointing Gorky's virgins to. The best introduction remains either of the two albums mentioned in the earlier part of this review. When Sleep/Holiday works, it's as superb as anything they've ever done. When it's not so good - which is only on two tracks, remember, but two tracks that go to make up a substantial part of the record's running time - it's pretty poor. The question you need to ask is, can you afford to miss out on the good stuff?
Review by E. Randy at 5:07 pm
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3 Inches of Blood - Destroy the Orcs / Sunrise Over the Fjords
Acid Mothers Temple/Kinski - Sub Pop split
The Barbs - Massive Crush EP
Electrelane - On Parade
Gorky's Zygotic Mynci - Sleep/Holiday
Matt Elliott - The Mess We Made
Iron & Wine - The Sea & the Rhythm EP
Kinski/Acid Mothers Temple - Sub Pop split
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