Oneida – The Wedding

Oneida
The Wedding

Oneida has had one of the more unremarkable remarkable careers in indie rock. A guitar force to be reckoned with since (at least) the band’s 2001 record, Anthem of the Moon, Oneida has released a series of very solid psych-rock records, each one of them thrilling the band’s growing fan base, each one failing to truly move the band beyond novelty status for anyone not interested in six-string stoner rave-ups. This isn’t to marginalize the band’s output; the 2004 release, Secret Wars, was the band’s best to date, which is saying something. The band even managed to survive the 2001 departure of lead vocalist Papa Crazy (who has gone on to form the equally awesome Oakley Hall).

Crazy’s departure didn’t seem to have much effect, until now. The Wedding is the first true departure for the band, eschewing the spacy, effects-laden guitar shreds for a more orchestrated, integrated psych-pop stew. It is easily the band’s most accomplished, interesting record, a record that will simultaneously alienate stodgy diehard “fans” and attract a new group of listeners to the band. Featuring a large, self-made music box (“largest on the East Coast” boasts the JagJaguwar website), the band sounds invigorated, dancing in and out of 1960s folk and pop melodies, laying the keyboards on thick, and harmonizing like these guys have never even heard of Blue Cheer.

“Lavender” is an excellent example of the band’s expertise, opening with propulsive drums and organ swooshes before a humming guitar riff swoops in. Hanoi Jane (who is now the primary vocalist, I think) chimes in two minutes in, riding the song’s warm flow. Sounding like a warmer, fuller Wayne Coyne, Hanoi Jane sings in non-sequiturs until the raga-tinged swoop of “Spirits” cuts in. “Run Through my Hair” is more careful, its folk melody tied into the plinking, chiming music box. Jane sings plaintively “Keep me in here / Roll down there / Roll me around / And run through my hair.” It’s a strangely moving brew, settling somewhere between Ghost’s country-psychedelia and Broadcast’s more pop-oriented musings. The final track, “August Morning Haze,” sounds like something off of Captain Beefheart’s classic first album Safe as Milk.

The surprise here isn’t Oneida’s change in style – indeed, this seems a somewhat logical progression from the band’s earlier records – but that these guys have succeeded so definitively on their first effort. Only a couple of the tracks here seem out of place – the aggressive vocal turn of “Did I Die,” for example, pushes the Stooges/MC5 mimicry a little far – and nothing drags or languishes as on prior records. The longest track (at a shade over seven minutes), “The Beginning is Nigh,” is a dense, organ-drenched masterpiece that should’ve been the closer, but never fails to hold interest.

The Wedding isn’t just Oneida’s “different” album – it is without a doubt the band’s first great one. Any subsequent move back to the grand guitar gestures of yore should be considered a disappointment. There is more than enough talent, spirit, and imagination in The Wedding to build a career on. But forget the future. The Wedding is a psych-pop wrecking ball, one that will only sound better as summer peaks and the days start getting shorter again.