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Posted on December 22nd, 2009 (1:21 pm) by Joseph Bogen

Rated O was easily my most anticipated album of 2009. After moving to New York in the summer of 2006, I have been lucky to see Oneida more than twenty times. They have become one of my favorite features of the city. So of course I was excited when I found out they had a triple album on the way. And having seen them play more than a dozen unreleased songs over the years, I was looking forward to hearing all of these songs collected on one release. You can imagine my surprise and frustration when I found out only five songs from their live set are featured in Rated O. Instead of collecting all of their new live material, Oneida have sandwiched their most powerful rock songs between two discs of experimentation

I should have seen this coming since they basically did the same thing with 2003’s Each One Teach One. But at least on that album both sides sounded like Oneida. The same cannot be said of the first disc of Rated O, which is a mess of programmed drums, distorted vocals and noise. Opener “Brownout in Lagos,” is one of those “did I put the right CD in?” tracks. Drummer Kid Millions may be an equal partner in the band, but with the guest vocalist and programmed beats, as far as I can tell he is completely absent from the track. Hell, for all I know, not a single member of the band played on the song. “What’s up Jackal” brings us closer to familiar territory with Oneida’s familiar pulsing drums and keyboard bassline, and with vocals distorted beyond all recognition.

Those first two tracks on disc one are typical Oneida compared to the last three. “10:30 at the Oasis” brings back the programmed drums for twelve minutes of electronic noise and atmospherics that go nowhere. “Story of O” is a bizarre instrumental jam. I can’t put a finger on it, but something is just off about this track. Sure, I hear guitar bass and drums, but it still doesn’t sound like the Oneida I have known. But all of this is downright poppy compared to “The Human Factor.” I think I have just about every Oneida album/EP/single and while some of their musical adventures do not pay off, I generally find them all listenable. “The Human Factor” is the exception. I hated this track. In fact, I’d say I hated it more than any other track I heard this year. It opens with some electronic drones and a plodding drum beat. And then someone starts yelling. Again, the vocals are distorted beyond all recognition, but this time they are at the front of the mix, and they are exceedingly unpleasant. I feel guilty every time I listen to this song and my fiancée is in the apartment. Hell, I even worry that I am subjecting my neighbors to this torture.

The most damning critique of the first disc is what happens when disc two starts: I turn up the volume. A lot. The opening track “The River” is wonderful. While I have never had any complaints about the live version, the studio version adds new life to this song. At the climax when Jane lets his guitar loose, studio production gives this an extra kick that makes it stand out. “The River,” “I Will Haunt You,” “Life You Preferred” and “Ghost in the Room” all follow a basic recipe for success: Kid Millions lays down a punishing beat while Bobby plays a steady bass line and Jane and Showtime lay down the riffs. This approach has its pitfalls. Live, I am frequently not sure if I’m hearing “Ghost in the Room” or “The River” until the guitars come in, but this is a minor quibble over what is close to rock and roll perfection. And like “The River,” the other three songs translate to the studio perfectly.

The three following tracks, “Saturday,” “It Was a Wall” and “Luxury Travel” feel like after-thoughts compared to their predecessors. This is a shame since “Saturday” and “Luxury Travel” are both strong tracks. “Saturday” uses whispered vocals, and an intriguing organ melody to draw the listener in. Usually, played live, it is a loose 10+ minute jam. The studio version tightens the song for noticeable improvement. “It Was a Wall” with its screaming and lazy melody is the only real misstep on the disc. If released alone, I am sure that disc two would have been considered the great rock album of 2009.

But it was not released alone, and we still have disc three to talk about. Disc three takes us back to experimental territory but thankfully with instrumental jams, which are one of Oneida’s strengths. It opens with “O,” a relaxing thirteen minute jam featuring prominent use of sitar. As an enjoyable psychedelic jam, it has a unique place in Oneida’s repertoire. “End of Time” provides a pleasant intermission before the album’s twenty minute giant, “Folk Wisdom.” Here, the band gets down to business almost immediately, opening with a rolling drum beat and guitar and keyboard noise. Around the eight minute mark things seem to reach some sort of climax, and while the jam does get quieter for a bit around the ten minute mark, they continue to push forward well past what would be a quitting point for most bands. Somehow Oneida manage to take this one far off the rails without ever losing their sense of fun and excitement. It may lack form and direction, but if you’re looking for a good twenty-minute freakout, I can think of few better recommendations.

Ultimately, Oneida have managed to show off their best and their worst tendencies on this album. Disciplined tight rock songs are sandwiched between Oneida’s most indulgent works to date. While in some ways I can think of no worse introduction for this band, this is the closest thing to a typical Oneida album I have heard. I can’t think of any album that has caused me such ambivalence. While I know exactly how I feel about each disc, I honestly could not tell you how I feel about the work as a whole. This is probably the first time an album has done that to me. I consider that some kind of accomplishment.

Track List:
1. Brownout In Lagos (5:38)
2. What's Up, Jackal? (3:08)
3. 10:30 At The Oasis (12:35)
4. Story Of O (7:50)
5. The Human Factor (10:28)
6. The River (4:33)
7. I Will Haunt You (4:08)
8. The Life You Preferred (4:38)
9. Ghost In The Room (6:18)
10. Saturday (6:48)
11. It Was A Wall (3:22)
12. Luxury Travel (6:04)
13. O (13:00)
14. End Of Time (3:50)
15. Folk Wisdom (20:50)

Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

Unrated
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