ONEIDA have always been (and continue to be) essentially abstract hard rockers, but I can’t think of many other groups that’ve made such a virtue of self-reinvention. I’m tempted to call the new The Wedding (Jagjaguwar) their best, but that wouldn’t be responsible–each new phase of this Brooklyn band’s career has provoked superlatives from me, and their previous record, the Krautrock opus Secret Wars, is just as good on its own terms. This time the group adds an unprecedented note of vulnerability to its noisy, aggressive sound, using sparse string arrangements (by Brian Coughlin of the Fireworks New Music Ensemble) and delicate vocal harmonies. “The Eiger” is just voice and strings, while “August Morning Haze” adds electric piano, guitar, and what sounds like hammer dulcimer. Descending long tones in the vocals enhance the drone at the core of “Spirits,” which sounds like a lost Velvet Underground tune, and the fragile “Run Through My Hair” glistens with tight, complex contrapuntal singing. Thankfully Oneida hang on to their sense of humor through all this experimentation–the lyrics are still goofy non sequiturs delivered sideways–and they always know when to keep it simple and ride a groove into the sunset.
I snoozed through Airs Above Your Station, the 2003 album from instrumental Seattle space rockers KINSKI, so I wasn’t expecting to spend much time with their new Alpine Static (Sub Pop). Then I listened to it. Same howling, druggy drones, same psychedelic freak-outs–but man, I don’t remember these folks rocking so hard before, or in so many ways. (Even the tracks that don’t try to rock are good: “All Your Kids Have Turned to Static,” a stately piece of chamber psych, is one of my favorites.) The templates are familiar: Sonic Youth at their most feral, Neu! at their most hypnotic and precise, Black Sabbath at their most reckless. The guitarists use their solos to thicken the rich harmonies of the riffs, not to flaunt technique, and the band’s mind-numbing focus (no distracting vocals!) turns even the most repetitive structures into a game of chicken with the listener. If you can handle the tension, though, the release is worth it.
Oneida headline and Kinski play second; Plastic Crimewave Sound, who are about to release a split 12-inch with Oneida on the latter’s brand-new Brah label, open the show. Wed 8/17, 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $8.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Juli Werner.