Oneida Rated O

[Jagjaguwar; 2009]

Rating: 2.5/5

Styles: IDM, psychedelic rock, avant rock
Others: Battles, Gang Gang Dance, Comets on Fire

From the outside, it seemed an ambitious project to tackle a musical triptych. With a theme so large that it nearly dwarfs Jupiter in terms of scale and size, Oneida's "Thank Your Parents" project initially came off like the half-baked idea of a band so stoned and lost in prog -- or Prague -- that the context was primed to eclipse the actual music. Lucky for Oneida (and for us), Preteen Weaponry -- the first installment --- was a grounded stake in their big top, a sturdy if acid-washed peg that laid the groundwork for their bizarro rock opera.

With tent firmly in place, it only seems fitting that the second release, Rated O, would itself engulf three discs' worth of material, as if to signify the three rings in their self-constructed circus. It’s a fitting analogy: the moment Rated O’s first track, “Brownout in Lagos,” blasts its teethy roar, you can’t help but feel that the canvas of Preteen Weaponry was just window dressing. Whereas that album maintained much of the nods to the 60s and 70s that Oneida had previously relied upon, Rated O is ready to abandon the familiarity of clown humor for the thrills of tightrope walking and lion-taming.

The Lee Perry/Gang Gang Dance/M.I.A. mash-up of “Brownout in Lagos” sets the table for the shift in direction that Rated O catalogues, especially in comparison to Preteen Weaponry. As the first disc moves along, elements of the classic psychedelia familiar to longtime Oneida fans -- the repetitive acid riff of “10:30 at the Oasis” or the Comets on Fire rock take-off “Story of O” -- begin to weave their way into the mix. However, the first disc is dominated by dance rhythms, often influenced by a combination of reggaeton, noise, and drone. It’s an interesting mix from a band once so beholden to the ideals of a bygone era.

But if you’re hoping for more of the dancehall noise that consumes disc one, then the second's marked return-to-form will be a letdown. The promise of shattering their self-imposed boundaries is resurrected with 35 minutes of non-apologetic rock ’n’ roll, the sort of teenage middle finger that, while once acceptable in the mid-90s, now reeks of the old. Perhaps that’s the point: by the end of this triptych, we are supposedly gaining a respect and admiration for our parents. And yet, disc two still contains solid psych pop. “The Life You Preferred” may be the disposable affair we’ve come to associate with indie flavors of the month, but it doesn’t mean its hackneyed riff and light prog-sprinkling won't stop you from shuffling about. Disc closer “Luxury Travel” steals the show, a slow-burning screecher that has become legendary in the hands of doom bands like Earth and sunn 0))), though not nearly as intimidating.

The third and final disc is comprised of only three songs, and in the grand scheme of runtime, it’s debatable whether the tracks justify their own disc. “O” opens the set with 13 minutes of repetitive — and tiring — raga. The blend of sitar and psych guitar is nothing new to followers of Richard Bishop or Ben Chasny, not to mention that the length of the track does little to endear the cyclical riff and Mediterranean roots to a casual audience. Granted, if you’ve made it this far into Oneida’s three-disc experiment, you’re probably not casually listening -- but it’s a safe bet you’re growing tired. After “End of Time,” a refreshing palette-cleanser that sees Oneida slightly returning to disc one's experimental aesthetic, “Folk Wisdom” finishes off the thoughts of disc three with a monologue that desperately works to hammer in the themes of "Thank Your Parents." The first 10 minutes of the track are wrapped up in walls of rainbow-tinted feedback and patterned tom fills, eventually reconstructing the groove into a fast-paced reinvention of All Things Must Pass-afterthought “Out of the Blue.” The problem is obvious to anyone who’s withstood the two-hour onslaught: it’s too long, too much, and too frayed to matter at this point.

Rated O may be a failure on many levels, but even the highest flying and most fearless trapeze artist falls from time to time. While the latter two discs have their moments, they're all too predictable when held up against the first disc's ambitious blend of noise and dance. If it weren’t for that safety net, Rated O would be nothing more than three discs of Preteen Weaponry castoffs. The "Thank Your Parents" anthology is going to need a spectacular finale to save itself, and at this point it’s questionable if Oneida have enough gun powder to blow the roof off their big top.

Disc 1:

1. Brownout in Lagos
2. What’s Up, Jackal?
3. 10:30 at the Oasis
4. Story of O
5. The Human Factor

Disc 2:

1. The River
2. I Will Haunt You
3. The Life You Preferred
4. Ghosts in the Room
5. Saturday
6. It Was a Wall
7. Luxury Travel

Disc 3:

1. O
2. End of Time
3. Folk Wisdom

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