Critics love to reach for multiple hyphens and obscure garage acts to namedrop when summing up Oneida's sound.
A few weeks ago Wired had an article about economist David Galenson and his research into creativity. Galenson studied various artists and which works from various parts of their careers commanded the greatest sums at auction. In his analysis, he found out that artists’ careers either peak early with a conceptual breakthrough or peak late after years of experimentation. In the visual arts, Galenson found that artists such as Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns created their most prized work early in their careers while others such as Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko peaked later in life after years of work. Galenson found a similar trend in literature with writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald and T. S. Elliott peaking early in their careers and others like Mark Twain and William Carlos Williams creating their most respected works in the second halves of their lives.
Reading the article brought to mind many records I’ve heard over time – albums by bands that had one promising debut only to peter out by the third or fourth album. Rarer still are bands whose records gradually improve until a masterpiece comes through at the end of a string of intriguing and promising albums. The music scene favors the breakout type of genius – A & R reps seek out promising emerging artists, journalists hope to find the next break out act, fans seek new sounds and styles. However, as I think back on some of the favorite artists in my CDs and records, I treasure most those that have plugged away, trying something different, improving, growing, until something remarkable is created.
Oneida has changed a great deal since its garage rock origins in the last century. Happy New Year is a record of a band in a new practice space, with a new guitarist moving forward with its musical goals. If you look for genres to pin on Happy New Year, you can end up exhausting the glossary of the All Music Guide – there are traces of folk and medieval song in the opener “Distress”, freak folk label could be placed “Busy Little Bee”, a bosa nova beat drives “The Misfit” and dance track “Up With People” combines a disco drum line with dance punk keyboards. However, all of these labels assume that Oneida is trying to sound like anyone else. Instead, these tracks are the results of Oneida’s experiments in creating music with analog instruments and organic sounds. Ignoring genre labels, I find that the music straddles the line between music for trances and music for dancing. Oneida plays with the repetition of melodies and layers of sound overtop of Kid Millions beats. Each track is a new experiment in combining new elements of sound, but each seems to bring Oneida closer to a goal – some genre that doesn’t yet exists, a music that frees the mind and the body in a new way.
Many music fans and critics go looking for the immediate breakout, the band with a clear agenda and style. Oneida doesn’t have that a pre-planned agenda and isn’t trying to accomplish create a particular. After eight albums, Oneida is creating more interesting, more creative music with each song. To me, that progress pushes them closer to 8.0, but not quite all the way. If you’re willing to ride along on the journey, Happy New Year will take you to some interesting places. You may not end up where you expect, but as Buckaroo Banzai said, “no matter where you go, there you are.”