Saturday, August 13, 2011

Oneida's "Absolute II": Music Review

This send-off into the vacuum realm above completes the Thank Your Parents trilogy begun three years ago with Teenage Weaponry, three long songs heavy on trance. Oneida continued in 2009 with Rated O, a sprawling triple-album's worth of clang, clatter and clash added to longer drones. Absolute II ends the experiment with no drums at all. Kid Millions, after working lately with White Hills (see my review last month of their newest, Hp-1), does not feature his dramatic bashing here at all. Instead, this Brooklyn band, with a baker's dozen years worth of recording an intellectual response to stoner rock, Krautrock, psychedelic pastiche and prog-rock filigree, tempers their assault while continuing its textured aggression.

The band launches off to deep space. This album provides a sinister soundtrack to a post-Kubrick odyssey. "Pre-Human" opens with primordial silence between keyboard noises and ambient moods. It stretches out and feels longer than its nine minutes. With no snares or toms to beat, the song wanders: lonely and yearning.

"Horizons" spends much of its eleven minutes twiddling in another atmospheric phase, as electronics distort and vocals phased at first irritate, and then blend into the trajectory. This album, more like the first installment in the trilogy than the second, concentrates on disturbing the listener, as vocal bursts shatter the simmering void. While some listeners may be annoyed by what may at casual attention seem only a rambling track, repeated plays should cause this to burrow into one's consciousness as it attempts to alter one's impressions.

I expected the guitars to enter, and they did, as "Grey Area" starts a ten-minute storm. Buzzy loops intersperse with chords that slice across the static. Most of this song keeps an uneasy pace. My music player shut off as I listened to it, perhaps ticked off by the track's refusal to follow convention. Yet a haunted, nearly monastic atmosphere enters at times, as depth is evoked in the ominous pauses between the descending shards of guitar. The hiss reminds one of interstellar radiation, as if left over from the Big Bang.

With the ten-minute title track concluding this brief album, its relatively short playing time does not detract from its cumulative effect. There's an abundance of noise here, but careful attention to the album as on this track shows that this amplification balances with emptiness, and hints of noise persist among the electronic spatter that dominates.With so few spoken moments, and those warped beyond comprehension, the alien theme of this record rewards the very patient, or lethargically prone, compliant listener.

At first listens, I wanted to dismiss this as lazy goofing around with effect-laden machines. The band, by downsizing its approach, may disappoint its fans used to its more rousing, if occasionally self-indulgent, overly allusive sonic poses. If you are not in the right spirit, this album may inspire you to turn it off rather than make it through. If I was not assigned to review it, I wonder if I'd have had the patience to analyze it?

So, it comes with a warning label. Perseverance may reward the diligent seeker, but admirers of their earlier arena-rock or stoner-rock stages, a more raucous delivery of catchy tunes, may feel let down by this metal machine music. It took me a while to warm to its chilly, unwelcoming temperature, accustomed as I was to Oneida's art-school phase, its punchier if more fey mid-decade work. But those who may be curious about mood music that upends one's emotions rather than calming them down may welcome this shambling trip into interstellar breakdown, instead of overdrive. (Featured at PopMatters 8-11-11 & to Amazon US.

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