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Posted on July 15th, 2011 (12:11 pm) by Joseph Bogen

Well I’ve been putting off this review for too long. It’s never fun panning your favorite band. Especially when I’ve seen them more than 20 times and have been started to be recognized as a regular at their Brooklyn shows. I was recently reminded that my reviews sometimes make it back to musicians, leaving hurt feelings. Well Oneida seem to be a nice group of guys, and I doubt they’re going to be bothered that I didn’t like Absolute II. I’d imagine they probably expected this album would alienate some fans. It’s 4 tracks of droning, mostly formless noise. There’s no drums and barely any vocals. Melody is fleeting. This is not Oneida, the best rock band on the planet. This is Oneida, the frustrating experimenters.

I was already warned that something like this was going to happen. In early 2009, I walked out of an Oneida show for the first time in my life when after nearly half an hour of aimless noise, nothing substantial had formed. I might have given the performance more of a chance if it hadn’t been at the Old Market Hotel, easily the most unpleasant venue in Brooklyn, but I wasn’t going to walk home smelling like an ash tray just to hear an hour of formless noise. Back in 2008, Bobby mentioned something about a completed album that was basically nothing more than recording the electric hum generated by their equipment. That basically sums up this album. At the time, I privately hoped they’d never release it. Or at lease release some of the tunes I’d been hearing them play for years without a proper release.

And I think that’s what irks me the most about Absolute II. If this wasn’t the only release since Rated O in 2009, I’d be less annoyed. Hell, about 50% of Acid Mothers Temple’s output is similarly unlistenable. But Acid Mothers Temple have put out as many as 7 albums in a year (that might even be a conservative count). I don’t want to disrespect Oneida’s creative process and artistic vision, but is it asking too much that they let fans hear some of the kickass rock songs they have lying around collecting dust?

“Pre-Human” gives the listener reason to hope that this album might at least offer some minimalist, seductive music. It opens with a quiet pulse that hints at much more. Unfortunately though, instead of building to anything, it devolves into an electric hum. “Horizons” follows a similar template, only this time heavily distorted vocals are briefly in the mix before the track turns into more electric noise. By the time I got to “Gray Area” and Absolute II,” I wasn’t even surprised or disappointed that these tracks had nothing to offer beyond noise.

What disappoints me about Absolute II isn’t just that it’s not as fun as Oneida’s other work. It’s that this album seems to one of several clear indicators that Oneida has entered a new stage as a band, one they are no longer the best rock band on the planet but an artistic project that has no interest in drawing new fans or even keeping the ones they have. I don’t think the band has had a real national tour since 2005. Even New York performances have sharply declined. And the only music they bother to release in 2 years is a collection of noise.

Absolute II is supposedly part 3 of the “Thank Your Parents” triptych. Don’t ask me what that means, because I don’t really know. Supposedly, Preteen Weaponry, Rated O and Absolute II are all part of one grand conceptual release from Oneida. I don’t get it, and I’m guessing most listeners won’t either. In his review for Pitchfork.com, Nick Neyland gives the album a lot of slack, saying that Absolute II is “very much a part of a greater whole, a logical if somewhat obtuse and reflective way to enter the comedown phase after the wild diversity of the previous installment.” But nothing unifies the three releases musically. In fact, I could have sworn Oneida once claimed a live album would be part of the triptych. I even attended one of these in-studio live sessions. So I’m a bit skeptical to any claims that Absolute II was planned as part of a larger conceptual work that started back in 2008.

Neyland also compares the album to Each One Teach One which he claims “is only now being fully unpacked and canonized as a major piece of work.” I guess he has to pretend that Each One Teach One was overlooked on its initial release since Pitchfork gave it a tepid review. But Neyland’s biggest mistake is thinking that just because Oneida released one underrated album, that if Absolute II is hard to digest, there must be something we’re missing. But there’s nothing missing here. This is a noise album, plain and simple. None of the tracks on here will become fan favorites in the way that “Sheets of Easter” has become “Dark Star” for Oneida fans.

What worries me is that Absolute II might not just be a creative detour for Oneida. I don’t think Oneida’s next album will sound anything like this. But I fear that Oneida has clearly entered a new stage in their development as a band, and it’s one that’s a lot less fun where they’re more interested in playing with their electronics than playing for an audience. Between 2006 and 2009, there was nothing more guaranteed to give me a fun night than an Oneida concert. Sometimes, I’d see them multiple times in the same weekend or even the same night. But as Oneida have increasingly stacked their setup with new electronic gadgets, the guitars have gotten buried and Oneida has seemed increasingly disinterested in the people standing in front of them. I’ve read at least two interviews where the members were proud that Oneida has never been a money-making enterprise. I guess that’s noble, but I always thought it was a shame that more people weren’t listening. Unfortunately, now it’s starting to make sense.

Track List:

1. Pre-Human
2. Horizons
3. Gray Area
4. Absolute II

Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

20 / 100
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