Oneida – Secret Wars

Secret Wars

Boil my brains, this IS good. Just when 2004 seemed destined to become a fallow uninteresting year for independent-minded sonic mavericks, with another glut of singer/songwriter dullards clamouring to fill the void, along comes Oneida’s seriously fucked-up and seriously stunning sixth album. Although limeys, like your writer, have been slow to stake an interest in the Brooklynites blistering brand of pysche-rock, Secret Wars (the first Oneida LP to get a full European release via Rough Trade) seems like more than a good enough place to start.
Fusing a desperately uncompromising mix of 60s garage-pysche, 70s prog-metal, 80s post-punk and 90s post-rock, Oneida is truly putting the potency back into the concept of bands working with a collective brain, as opposed to being a vehicle for an overbearing songwriter. The eight mind-exploding nuggets gathered here simply couldn’t have arrived from the pen of just one musical mind. Secret Wars is the product of three men who couldn’t give a flying rhino about commercialism or fashion, breaking down sound barriers in a way that makes genre boundaries feel redundant. This is a trio that has rediscovered the long lost joy of merging melody with utter mind-scrambling mayhem and the power to be harnessed from locking three streams of thought into one dambusting tidal-wave of sound.
Focusing in on individual songs is a somewhat reductive process, especially given the way that Secret Wars rolls along like a flaming juggernaut stuck in fifth gear, but we’ll try anyway. The opening “Treasure Plane” does a brilliant job of cranking the album into action, with its dissolute mix of Yo La Tengo-ish organ fuzz, Dinosaur Jr-like guitar-mangling and clattering cymbals, but it’s the double-whammy of “Caesar’s Column” and “Capt. Bo Dignifies the Allegations with a Response” that gives Secret Wars such imposing presence in its first half. The two tracks twine together a corrosive clash of Clinic-flavoured vocal jabbering with the hypnotic hypertension of Suicide and early-Gallon Drunk, leaving the listener punch-drunk and in need of very long lie-down. “Wild Horses” may offer a respite from tempo-busting keyboard playing, but the woozy Sonic Youth string bending is hardly relaxing in its place. “$50 Tea” soon returns us to the grinding bass/drums/organ triangle, this time imagining how Stereolab’s “French Disko” would sound after being remixed by Atari Teenage Riot. “The Last Act, Every Time” brings in the only momentary lapse in amplification, sounding like Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci on an especially heavy acid trip. However, anyone expecting that Oneida might close this album with a soft tender stroke instead of a long hard vicious thump, will be “reassured’ with the violence and brutality of “The Winter Shaker” (essentially Black Sabbath vs. Big Black) and the closing cacophony of “Changes in the City” (more or less Mercury Rev’s epic “Very Sleepy Rivers” as redone by Girls Against Boys).
Baffled, confused and disorientated just reading about it all? Wait until you actually hear Secret Wars – it will rewire your brain, and then some. Sublime.