For any band other than Oneida, opening a record with the sound of strummed guitar chords wouldn’t be the slightest bit surprising. But the psychedelic noise rock outfit have rarely made that kind of straightforward major-chord guitar a central part of their approach. You will certainly hear guitars on their records, but even more prominently than that you’ll hear Fat Bobby’s squeal of keyboard effects and any manner of swirling sonic treatments, be it in their more conceptual ambient pieces or their pulsing kraut-noise freakouts. Throughout Oneida’s expansive catalog, there are few moments in which a previous idea gets recycled, other than the general principles of repetition, pulse or cacophony. With Success, after more than two decades, they make good on an idea they somehow hadn’t committed to just yet: a guitar rock album.
The album’s leadoff track, “Beat Me to the Punch,” is deceptively simple, riding a bright and radiant two-chord stream of jangly guitar that breathes easy on the grooves reminiscent of The Modern Lovers. That progression never changes, but the song itself does, ultimately being taken over by shrieking squalls of distorted soloing that scatters chaos all over a song that feels more laid back and in control. It’s almost as if Oneida are deconstructing themselves in a single track, taking the elements of piercing sonic annihilation and rhythmic hypnosis and juxtaposing them in a fascinating display of contrast.
It also just rocks, though, and that’s essentially true of all of Success. That’s perhaps the part of the album that’s less surprising—when Oneida get going, they can really cook, and though the tools and the methods might change, the end result is still something that’s energizing and invigorating, if at times more direct. “Opportunities” is one such moment, a driving punk rocker that seeks to overwhelm as it laments being overwhelmed (“I just don’t know what to do with all these…opportunities“), while “I Wanna Hold Your Electric Hand” infuses an array of mellifluous layers into a deeply fuzzy groove, like a hypercharged take on Stereolab’s kosmische-pop. Yet acidic weirdness abounds even amid the two-chord raveups; there’s a simplicity to these songs at their core, but what the band builds around some very basic ideas ends up being even greater as the band continue to explore them. That said, when they go for broke on the fiery riff explosions of “Solid” or the 10-minutes of motorik space exploration on “Paralyzed,” they offer some kickass reminders of the kind of mind-bending diversions that separate them from other, more conventional rock bands.
Success isn’t all that conventional, however, despite the band’s enthusiastic leap into raucous and fully charged guitar rock. Oneida are still a group that finds a groove and learns to live inside of it, exploring its nuances and contours before pulling the trigger on a changeup or a climax. That much hasn’t changed, but there’s a more freewheeling sensibility to Success that’s refreshing. Here’s where Oneida deliver their road trip record or their Sunday afternoon album, vibrations still intact and rocking like only they truly can.
Label: Joyful Noise
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.