March 08, 2004

Oneida "Secret Wars"

I was perusing the new releases shelf at the campus radio station, looking for something fresh to hopefully pull me out of the musical rut I’d been in for the past few weeks. I got to the ‘O’ section and came across the new Oneida record. I’d heard a few scattered things about the group, but I didn’t really know much about ‘em aside from the fact that they were a part of the same over-hyped Williamsburg scene I previously mentioned in my TV On The Radio review. Having never heard an Oneida record before, I was a bit anxious to hear what I’d been missing. I continued browsing the shelf, putting aside the various new records that I hadn’t had the opportunity to check out in the past few months.

Once I was finished, I packed up and headed back to my dorm on the Southside of campus. I got back to my room, unpacked, and decided to unwind with a few of the records I picked up. To put it mildly, I was not impressed with the majority of the new releases 2004 had to offer: Telefon Tel Aviv (songs had no weight whatsoever), Liars (don’t shit on a canvas and tell me it’s art), Deerhoof (disappointing, save for the first three tracks). At this point, I was fed up. Exasperated, even. Disillusionment aside, I decided to pop the Oneida disc in anyway and hoped to whatever higher power that this record would rekindle my love of rock n’ roll. I popped the disc in and waited. And waited. And waited. No such luck. I was on the verge of throwing all the albums out into the parking lot outside my window, with Secret Wars on the top of the pile. But, instead I decided to head to dinner. “Perhaps some African Heritage House cookin’ would soothe my jangled nerves”, I thought.

In the coming weeks, I gave most of the other records second and, in certain cases, third chances, but my initial verdicts remained steadfast. It wasn’t until one afternoon in early March did I give the Oneida record another spin. Lo and behold, I was floored. For some reason unbeknownst to me, I was converted. I saw the light, so to speak. In laymen’s terms, Secret Wars blew my ass away.

Since it was my first time hearing Oneida, I had nothing to compare Secret Wars to, but I did know what I was hearing was dynamite, plain and simple. Taking equal parts from the ‘60’s stoner rock riffage of bands like Blue Cheer and, to a certain extent, Steppenwolf and the droning, mantra-like qualities of Krautrock bands like Can and Neu!, Oneida managed to craft a vibrant, intensely psychedelic sound that could appeal to generations past and future.

Oneida make no bones about their classic rock roots- hell, they’ve got a tune here called “Wild Horses” and the album ends with an epic 14-minute jam the Allman Brothers could be proud of- but instead of using their roots to pigeonhole themselves into nothing more than retrogressive revivalists (a la a significant number of their peers), Oneida use their roots to anchor and flavor their already distinctive sound. Just about all of Secret Wars’ tracks are first-rate, but I especially enjoy the deep-bottom wild-eyed lurch of “Treasure Plane”, the speedy, rambunctious soul of “Capt. Bo Dignifies The Allegations With A Response” and the funky, skittering, almost Lightning Bolt-esque drone of “$50 Tea”.

The first time I listened to Secret Wars I was nearly bored to tears. The second time around I was hooked like a small mouth bass on a morphine-coated fishing line. In short, Secret Wars isn’t just a great drug album; it’s a great album, period.

--Jonathan Pfeffer

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