Oneida/Marwood: A Study in Opposites
“walk in the ever-widening circle, never reaching home”
Upon first hearing Oneida’s double CD, Each One Teach One, I stared at my stereo like it was possessed. The first disc contains two songs: one 14-minutes-plus and a second 16-minutes-plus. Both are very monotonous songs—imagine a CD on constant skip.
Upon closer inspection, I discovered the tempo does shift, albeit imperceptibly—nearly enough to induce meditation. “Sheets of Easter” and “Antibiotics” are walls of sound, requiring an open mind and lots of patience. By the time the songs had ended, my impression of them had changed: the level of intensity had risen, and the background layers behind the beat had begun to separate and float about on their own—wisps of ghosts of songs I heard in the back of my ear.
The second disc is much more accessible, but still pushes boundaries. “Each One Teach One” (the song) is beautiful, reminding me of the classic ’80s bands This Mortal Coil and Dead Can Dance. “People of the North” has a Nine Inch Nails feel: desperate, moody, understated, waiting to explode and give you satisfaction (which it doesn’t.) “Number Nine” is full of trippy, droning vocals and sparse music that builds up to a cacophony. “Rugaru” is coordinated noise with guitar stabs sounding like a wounded animal. It’s a haunted bedtime lullaby. “Black Chamber” is the Cure’s “Lullaby” for a new generation: a comforting music box filled with creepy darkness.
Oneida uses music instead of paint, and they go outside the lines very often. The music is strange but incredibly affecting, vivid, and even beautiful. The more time I spent with them, the more it seemed to make sense. The thing most overlooked with music like this is the talent required to pull it off. In another band’s hands, this would be one holy mess of noise. In Oneida’s capable hands, it is a sonic quest for the other side.
Finding comparisons for this band is not an easy task; I believe the sound is reminiscent of other Brooklyn bands, perhaps Stereobate or Secret Machines (incessant sound and experimentation, but not as reliant on melody), or even the Walkmen or the French Kicks (off-kilter sound but with several additional layers on top). Oneida is Mercury Rev’s reflection in a shattered mirror—with a bit of splattered mud for good effect. Their music is hallucinatory punk-post-millennial-angst-ambient-jazz. They involved my iPod with some musical anarchy for a while and it was very much appreciated.
Oneida will be touring in Europe in May. They have an EP called Secret Wars coming out in the spring on Ace Fu Records, and are working on a new full-length, The Wedding, scheduled for a fall release. For more information, visit enemyhogs.com.
“see you later, if your turn comes around”
Marwood is a true-blue pop band, about as diametrically opposed to Oneida as you can get. Their debut release, Regular Fips, leaves much to be desired. The music sounds a bit dated and familiar, which in this age of retro-everything is not always a bad thing. However, in this case it comes off as safe, even boring. They are a good bar band, but they haven’t yet crossed that line to greatness.
Benji Rogers, the lead singer, has a good voice and is one of the better things on the CD. However, even he falters. On many of the slower, ballad-y songs, his voice just doesn’t work well with the song structure. On many of the high, extended notes typical of those songs, his voice loses its edge and tone, which just distracted me from the music. But on the more upbeat rock songs, his voice is perfect and he uses it well, especially during the choruses.
It is these upbeat songs that make the CD worth listening to. “5 Hours” is a standard pop song, with a nice build-up to the glowing chorus. “Souless” is good radio fare, and reminded me of American Hi-Fi. “Maybe” is a sexy song about wounded love and playing the game, with Big Head Todd riffs. It is very radio-friendly. “Reconsider” is a poppy rock song, with some nods to Oasis. “Get Lucky” is perhaps the best song on the disc: a catchy groove, some funk, with well-worded and -timed lyrics (“come make fun of the moon with me ’til sunrise”), and tight changes. It could be a Train song.
However, the really important thing about “Get Lucky” is that Marwood sounds like they liked making this song, which is missing from most of the other tracks. Four of the remaining five songs are very similar-sounding, lovelorn, crying-in-your-beer ballads that get tired very, very quickly. The fifth, “Don’t,” is their attempt to get a little rough around the edges, with some Alice in Chains-style chords. It just doesn’t work after the rest of the album.
While listening to the album, I kept waiting for something exciting to happen, for them to show me how happy they were to be making music, and it never came. The songs sound tired and the album lacks life, even on the upbeat tunes. The catchy choruses are surrounded by a mostly barren landscape; there aren’t peaks or even interesting valleys to explore or jolt you. In the end, Regular Fips comes off as formulaic and generic. You’ve heard this music before, and there’s not anything new offered here. As a friend of mine put it, “It’s a cornucopia of the same food.”
Are they a bad band? No. But they are missing that spark. Marwood is simply going through the motions. The last song, “Trace,” is a slowly-building song they get moving in the right direction, at the end. But by then it’s too late, and they haven’t delivered on the possibilities. That describes the album to a T.
Marwood was recently signed to Home Office Records and they are currently working on a new album. For more information, visit marwoodmusic.com.
Grant Moser is an art writer and frequent contributing writer for the Brooklyn Rail.
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Joel Newberger is the author of Under the Window, Hexateuch, and A Caw. He edits The Swan, a series of free pamphlets devoted to the oldnew songs of the poets. He works and lives in Kingston, NY. Ad fontes.