The cycle of Brooklyn’s fearlessly experimental rock band has come to its logical conclusion. After twenty-five years of constantly expanding their sonic imagination, moving from noise-rock to an exploration of territories like krautrock (in the footsteps of outfits like The Cosmic Jokers), monolithic drone, free jazz or heavy dub – both as Oneida, and while making dub covers of Joy Division under the name Jäh Divison – they have now recorded their most straight-ahead rock album ever. After the cosmic synth jams on their previous, four years-old Romance, success is a rock songbook – and one not lacking in anthem-like refrains.
“We’ve been in the woods for a long time, doing very challenging, fucked up and psychotic things and sharing them with the world and expecting people to keep up,” explains John Colpitts in the press release. “We honestly did not try to make something more straight ahead, but it came out that way.” You might say that Oneida is now reborn. It is undoubtedly true for founding member and drummer Colpitts (aka Kid Millions), who was involved in a severe car crash in 2018, as he looks back on the accident and recovery in a recent tQ interview.
success recalls the energy of Oneida’s early days, especially of the group’s third album, Come On Everybody Let’s Rock from 2000, which foreshadowed the emerging New York garage revival scene. Oneida then departed from what was going on in town to embark on their own path. Avant-garde tendencies were cemented by the triptych Thank Your Parents, a brace of albums which must have sounded too experimental and abstract for their trendsetting indie-rock label Jagjaguwar. Their ways went in separate directions one record after.
In this sense, the name of the new album, success, feels like self-parody for a band that tours mainly when members can take time out from their day-to-day jobs. Take the opener ‘Beat Me to the Punch’, which starts off like jubilant and radio-friendly two-chord indie-rock – resembling the virtues of bands like Mudhoney or Obits – but is soon drowned out by distorted guitar noise after a minute and a half. It is as if Oneida were telling us, “We could if we wanted to”. In the next cut, ‘Opportunities’, a fuzzed-out garage punk tune, they sing, “Just don’t know what to do with all these opportunities, so many choices to make.”
Even if Oneida fans find ‘I Wanna Hold Your Electric Hand’, in the middle of the album, too kitsch, there remain other songs for them to feed on. Guitars on success are upfront, but Oneida remain faithful to their motorik religion. The album is still grounded by the Liebezeitian rhythm, which may steal the show (as in ‘Paralyzed’) over a ten-minute-long feverish krautrock jam. In ‘Solid’, the quintet turn into adventurous psychonauts and Oneida’s spaceship takes off. Here – as throughout the whole album – Oneida prove once again that they can change course anytime they want, and the journey will remain exciting.