From time to time, when I’m a tad bored (no Come Dine With Me repeats on; run out of biscuits), I like to mess around on Audacity; a free digital audio editor in the mould of Logic and Pro-Tools and the rest. Armed with just an angelic voice, godlike guitar stylings and an earth-shattering sense of modesty, I sit down to a cheap microphone, record a little something or other, then mess about with it a bit; piling on liberal helpings of echo, reverb, phasing, compression, etc with a view to enhancing and refining my Daniel Bedingfield mk II bedroom-laptop masterpiece to perfection.
Unfortunately, this messing about invariably descends into outright silliness and an inability to know when to stop, until, like a child that’s got tired of drawing on mere paper and decided to take their craft to uncharted walls, I’ve ended up with an hour of my life wasted and nothing to show for it but an unlistenable piece of self-indulgent rubbish. This is what Absolute II—the final instalment in Brooklyn stoner rockers Oneida’s Thank Your Parents ‘triptych’—sounds like.
Well, I say “stoner rockers”. What I actually mean is “purveyors of pointless, boring Metal Machine Music-lite white noise”, because Absolute II contains nothing even resembling a song, let alone a rock and roll one. It’s a dull, useless, unholy orgy of migraine-inducing guitar and synth feedback and non-instrumental noodling—the sound of a group of bored, lazy, uninspired musicians trying to hide the fact they can barely be bothered to get out of bed in the morning and pretend they’re responsible for some kind of grand, conceptual artistic statement. In other words, Oneida have collectively become Tracey Emin.
It hasn’t always been this way. 2008’s Preteen Weaponry and the following year’s Rated O certainly have their fair share of skippable, self-indulgent ego-wankery (the latter noticeably more so), but they also both possess plenty of solid melodies and at least some coherent rhythm and structure. Buried away amongst all the fuzzy, ominous noise on the three movements that comprise Preteen Weaponry, there’s an enjoyable foundation of relatively thoughtful, well-crafted songwriting. Ditto the follow-up: although conventional writing takes a back seat somewhat to metallic Krautrock riffing, over-long, alien sound collages and general futurist fruit-loopery on Rated O, if one cuts through the unedited dreck, it’s still quite clear that this isn’t a band that’s fresh out of decent ideas. This, sadly, just isn’t the case on Absolute II (A.K.A. Oneida’s Contractual Obligation Album)—this time round, they appear to have forgotten the songs.
I suppose Absolute II’s ponderous, meandering soundscapes—and I use the word in the loosest possible sense—could, if one squints, just about pass for the Teutonic jams on Rated O if they had someone keeping time, but this is a 100 per cent drum-free record. Sure, they’d still get boring pretty rapidly, but at least there’d be the added advantage of being somewhat head-noddable to assist in keeping awake whilst one sits through the things. If nothing else, then, Absolute II is a fairly successful exercise in getting its listeners to appreciate just how essential to popular music drummers really are. Come to think of it, has anyone seen Ringo Starr recently? If you’ve heard of any reports of an ex-Beatle producing the latest from a New York-based experimental rock combo, please do get in touch. It’d explain a lot.
To conclude, Absolute II is a truly horrible experience, and a huge “up yours” to anyone foolish enough to plonk down their hard-earned cash for what is one of the laziest and most irritating 40 minutes of ‘music’ put to record in a long time (“You mean we can make a living recording ourselves detuning radios, breaking synthesisers and speaking snippets of gibberish through vocoders? Ker-ching!”) But, most importantly, it’s also a cautionary tale for other music-makers that think they might like their own triptych someday but aren’t sure if they could be bothered to finish one. Because, as it stands, Oneida are effectively the proud owners of their very own bi-and-a-bit-ptych. And no-one wants one of those.