In the 2004 documentary Kill Your Idols, Lydia Lunch and a bunch of other original no-wavers ripped their 21st century imitators for focusing on image and fame instead of subversion. It’s probably not a coincidence that, despite being one of the originators and constant creativity pushers of the new scene, Oneida was nowhere to be found in the film. While Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Liars made utter fools of themselves, Oneida has been the closest to the spirit of no wave’s original purposes: constantly pushing boundaries and daring you to apply a predetermined label.
So far, Onedia’s been fine staying out in the spotlight while their peers have become international stars. It’s taken until their ninth studio album — in the band’s 11th year — for Oneida to start aiming somewhere higher. In June, they announced that Preteen Weaponry would be the first album in a trilogy known as the "Thank You Parents" series. If the first album of the series is any indication, the series will be in completely uncharted waters.
Preteen Weaponry is the anti-A.D.D. generation indie album. Like a great jazz album, it demands devoted inspection and attention to the most minute of details, even if it works as background music. The very set up of the album, consisting of three 10-plus minute nameless tracks that are virtually all instrumental, means you’ll be drawn in to listening to it multiple times at all kinds of different levels of attention. For a band that started out as garage rock-leaning impresarios of Brooklyn’s neo-no-wave movement, transition to musicality is no small development.
If you were to listen casually to the opening fourteen-minute track, for instance, you would miss the breathtaking, mind-boggling creativity of the distinctly non-Western percussion work of Kid Millions. After being one of the 77 Boredoms drummers last year, Millions sounds like 77 drummers in one, constantly shifting direction and style while contrasting drastically with the rest of the band’s repeating, building melody.
Even disregarding Millions’ drumming, a close listen reveals a fascinating mix of sounds in the background from the very beginning, which eventually emerge as if riding on a white horse. This kind of nuance is miles away from Oneida’s 2006 album, Happy New Year, which was essentially a good-not-great pop album. But it doesn’t sound that much like Portishead or Godspeed You! Black Emperor, either.
By the second track, Millions switches to 4/4 drumming and the band lets the guitar effects take over. It’s a bitter, nastier sounding track, which doesn’t lose its bite even after five minutes of repetition. It’s here that vocals make a brief cameo, though they’re more of an atmospheric touch than the driving force of the track.
Preteen Weaponry is a dialectical album, and the third and final track appropriately synthesizes the spastic rhythms of the first track with the stinging guitars and keyboards of the second. Strangely, it ends up sounding a lot cooler and in command, but it’s also something of a letdown. The incredible ride finishes not with a bang but with a whimper. Preteen Weaponry isn’t much more than a 39-minute sonic experiment for a band seeking a new direction, but it’s such a mindfuck to listen to, who cares where it ends up?