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A List of the Burning Mountains Mat Colegate , November 16th, 2012 10:54

After the enormous life-sapping project that must have been the Thank Your Parents triptych of albums, what next for Oneida? Three records that seemed to point the way to all the band's pasts, presents and futures simultaneously, and culminated in the glowering form of Absolute II, possibly the most fearlessly experimental album this fearlessly experimental band have ever made. An album that at points feels like it could be better described through the medium of drawing than through words. Once you've recorded a definitive statement (and a triptych is as defined a statement as you can get), where do you go next?

The ability to explore ideas over long periods of time is something that has always defined Oneida, from their mantric fifteen minute showstopper 'Sheets Of Easter', to the opening part of the …Parents' trilogy that was the dub-infused Preteen Weaponry. The approach for this latest album seems to have been to take that more exploratory element and twist it 'til it groans... see what comes dripping out. The result is forbiddingly set out as two tracks, both near on 20 minutes long, and housed in a sleeve showing a desolate mountain vista, with a great black square slap bang in the centre. It sums up the album perfectly - the rub of sharp abstraction against more 'natural' forms and the sparks that fly from pushing order onto oblivious chaos. Make no mistake, this is a heavy record.

The first track, which like the second helpfully shares the album's title, is a rising escalation of heart-in-mouth moments. It travels from an opening of spooked cosmic atmospherics that's probably the closest the band has ever come to emulating the more hairy krautrockers such as Ash Ra Tempel and Amon Duul II, and slowly crawling through frantic scrawls of guitar and punch drunk electronic organ before expiring in a pool of vein-throbbing-in-your-temple drumming and electronic hiss. It reminds you how well Oneida do the dark stuff. Some of their most successful moments have occurred where they've blown more icy than hot, achieving a kind of spooked serenity, folkish without being mawkish and backward, and always electric. Here it's as if they've moved further into the heart of the wood, where the plants are dead and the animals don't go.

Side two occupies a similar terrain of Martian pastoralism as the beginning of side one. Electronic blips and washes skirt the surface of the track like intergalactic probes looking for a touching down spot, Kid Millions' drums pushing against the fibre of the whole landscape. Before an eternally resonating pulse begins and the whole thing shifts from Lost In Space to Event Horizon.

It's a very improvisational-sounding record. Kid's drumming in particular has none of the violent propulsion that has so come to define his role, adopting a looser, more rolling style that's closer to free jazz than any krautrock influence. The contrast against the filth-encrusted throbs and hums that make up the rest of the instrumentation is as pronounced as that black square on the cover. The drums test their environment, probing it for weak spots and ensuring that the music never settles into ambience. They have as much to do with the spooked and unsettled atmosphere as any of the drones that surround them or indeed the sudden bursts of hard noise that shoot out of the mix at points, obliterating whole tones and scarring deep rivets into the tracks. It's unease that defines this release. Some of the more extreme moments remind me of the claustrophobic roar of Mika Vanio's recent recordings. That same cramped feeling of having something right up close to you and breathing in your face.

Coming as it does hot on the heels of Absolute II, it's tempting to conclude that this new, harsher Oneida is here to stay. That the relentlessly grooving days of tracks such as 'Up With People', or albums like Anthem On The Moon are behind them. I'd personally be happy to see them explore this new terrain for as long as they like. Oneida are really good at this stuff, always managing to ensure that no matter how frazzled they get the whole package packs a hard punch that can only be rock and roll. But, this being Oneida, we don't get to know what comes next. That's what keeps us coming back.

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