h, I was so prepared for this one. I’d never heard Oneida before, but I’d heard of them, of course, read many a review once Secret Wars fell into my lap. I was preparing to draw myself up and say something to the effect of “I’ve heard the Spacemen 3, and you, sirs, are no Spacemen 3”. Yet another band fucking around with repetition and noise; I downloaded the vaunted “Sheets Of Easter” to check it out, and while it was good and numbing, it was no “Suicide”.
So it’s a good thing I, y’know, actually listened to the album before writing this review; that’s a policy of mine, whether it’s apparent or not. “Treasure Plane” wobbled to life on a surprisingly fulfilling (I’d hesitate to call it catchy) fuzzed keyboard riff, and the song proceeded to lurch along for three and a half minutes without boring me, while appealing to my jones for repetition.
Admittedly, not terribly many people share that particular love of mine, but Secret Wars is still accessible to them. Except for the last track, which I’ll get to later, the eight songs here are perfectly balanced between straightforward songcraft (the rocking, Clinic-circa-“Pet Eunuch”-ish “Capt. Bo Dignifies The Allegations With A Response”, the southern tinged “Wild Horses”) and tracks where the band locks into an inexorable groove or riff and just rides it for a while (“$50 Tea”, the awesome “The Winter Shaker”). And none of that prepared me for “The Last Act, Every Time” which sounds utterly unlike what I’d expected Oneida to sound like, almost mellow and yet spiky at the same time.
It also, like everything else on Secret Wars, sounds increasingly enduring and endearing every time I put the record on. Far from the slate-grey palette I’d expected, each track here sounds different, although identifiably the work of the same band. It’s not that Secret Wars plays genre hopscotch—it most emphatically doesn’t—it’s that Oneida are more creative than I was about to give them credit for.
In fact, the highest praise I can think of for this record is that it shows me vividly for the first time why I never got into Sonic Youth and wound up selling Daydream Nation. Eight tracks and forty minutes of concise wonder beats the hell out of fourteen tracks that last for, as far as I can remember, roughly four hours of good ideas surrounded by dross and boredom. The more I listened to Secret Wars the more I remembered various praise of SY (especially those centered around the idea of being experimental and yet totally rocking at the same time) and the more I started thinking that, for me at least, they applied more to Oneida.
But, now that I’ve successfully alienated all the Sonic Youth fans out there I’ll discuss the really important part of the record: the de rigeur epic final track, in this case that role being played by “Changes In The City”, all 14:12 of it.
“Sheets Of Easter”, the similarly lengthy first track from Oneida’s last album, was impressive for containing one idea for fourteen minutes, but here although the group starts out with an equally killer riff, they’ve finally managed to incorporate progression without disrupting the flow; so you’re listening to it, thinking it’s staying the same (and loving it), when wham a new part clocks you upside the head and you realize it had actually been building for a while.
The thing that’s most surprising to me about “Changes In The City”, and this album as a whole, is how much it already feels like a beloved favorite to me. Instead of sounding like things I already love, this is a record that captivated me instantly, rarely leaving my CD player in the past few weeks. Unlike most of what I’ve liked so far this year, Secret Wars feels like a keeper, like an album I’ll pull out and play and still love ten years from now.
STYLUSMAGAZINE.COM'S ALBUM OF THE WEEK: MARCH 29 - APRIL 4, 2004