Oneida Happy New Year

[Brah/Jagjaguwar; 2006]

Styles: psychrock, maniacal krautrock, spazz
Others: Sun City Girls, Need New Body, Gang Gang Dance, Plastic Crimewave Sound

When I'm at a party committing a CUI (criticizing under the influence), I'm liable to say Oneida, more than any other band on the planet, understand the raw, exhilarating power of the opening track. The Brooklyn power-group (now a quartet with the addition of Fucking Champs/Trans Am guitarist Phil Manley) has changed genres so often over the course of their career that even long-time fans have no idea what to expect when 01 hits, and that's an anomaly. Oneida, incredibly, have kept the element of surprise for almost a decade.

But that's all coming to an end with Happy New Year. "Distress" is no jaw-dropping opener. It is simply a really good Oneida song. It is no "Sheets of Easter," the 14-minute, one-note jam that began 2002's death rock opus, Each One Teach One. It's not even "The Eiger," the pastoral violin and cello effort that began last year's The Wedding. Wait; it is a lot like "The Eiger," actually. Happy New Year is the next step in Oneida's psych-rock-meets-American-primitivism direction, one hinted at already by The Wedding and "Prehistoric Maze," the Sun City Girls-ish original Oneida added to their 12" split with Plastic Crimewave Sound last year.
2006 was supposed to be the year of the Oneida triple-LP Thank Your Parents (of which "Prehistoric Maze" was part of the sessions), but exhaustion and living non-rock lives — master's degrees, computer tech support, and middle-school teaching — stopped the ROCK until next year. Fat Bobby described Happy New Year to me as the alternative, a single-minded journey, and I agree. Oneida is traveling further down the path laid out in last year's The Wedding. It's equally pastoral, with luscious production and Bobby's surprisingly beautiful voice taking centerstage. The beat-down that is the Oneida live experience is confined to a few tracks, and it's no coincidence these are the immediate album stand-outs: "The Adversary" and "Up with People." These are vintage Oneida, red-hot keyboards and distorted guitars interlocking into livable, breathable rhythmic melodies. The only difference between these two tracks and Oneida songs from the past is that — like Steve Shelley — Kid Millions just keeps getting better and better with each successive release. The guy has paid his dues, playing in this silly band that krauts the most intense moment of a Blue Cheer riff for 50 straight minutes during live sets.

These two tracks come after the one-two punch of "Distress" and "Happy New Year," two good Oneida songs if I ever heard them and matching exactly the energy of the first two songs on The Wedding. And, just like that album, the latter half of the album slows down the momentum abruptly, as if Oneida knows they're doing some different things and want to explore this new territory carefully. But the experimentalism sounds weird... because normal Oneida is already so experimental. "Pointing Fingers" sounds like TV On the Radio, and elsewhere these guys are really getting into acoustic guitars. And no matter how adept of musicians they are (some of the best in """""indie rock"""""), there's something disconcerting about Oneida bringing the American primitivism Fahey, no matter how much they stutter-step around interesting rhythms.

The album ends on a brilliant note, though, one that makes good on all the promise of this new pastoral direction. "Thank Your Parents" is a seven-minute reverberated piano crawl, with slow-mo drums and just enough oomph to deserve the space it gets. They're working through something, and Bobby said Thank Your Parents — this imminent triple-threat that makes me hope global warming doesn't blammo us until after 2007 — was a talisman. They're on the right road, apparently. We just already knew they were on it.

1. Distress
2. Happy New Year
3. Adversary, The
4. Up With People
5. Pointing Fingers
6. History's Great Navigators
7. Busy Little Bee
8. Reckoning
9. You Can Never Tell
10. Misfit, The
11. Thank Your Parents

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