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People Of The North
Sub Contra Tristan Bath , July 12th, 2013 07:40

The long strange trip of Oneida is a distinct and perturbing one. Starting as a loud and bold but uninteresting psychedelic rock band, the first surfacing of their true selves came with the near meltdown of Each One Teach One's opening statement back in 2002 - two noisy slabs of drawn out rock minimalism. Gradually the semblance of songs has dissipated since then, Oneida's career continually mimicking Alvin Lucier's I Am Sitting In A Room as the sounds the make become increasingly alien. Fuelling this development, the band have worked relentlessly in the Ocropolis studio, taping hundreds of hours of improvisation. The ephemerality of improvised music is a double edged sword, both enabling a band to make satisfying records at breakneck speed, and yet always nagging them to push ceaselessly onward. Each passing album has seen their former self shrink into the distance, while Brooklyn's defining experimental rock band sail deeper and deeper into the unknown. Of the troupe's numerous additional projects outside of the Oneida name (including the Reichian drum circle of Kid Millions' Man Forever and Shahin Motia's stoner rock outfit, Knyfe Hyts), People Of The North is the one that is most truly the new Oneida's alter ego.

 Although ostensibly the duo of Bobby Matador and Kid Millions, People Of The North's first record featured Shahin Motia, with the second adding Barry London too. On Sub Contra it's once again most definitely four fifths of Oneida, and Hanoi Jane's absence is a necessary evil that helps things feel disparate from the parent band. Tangibly mirroring the undulations of Oneida, People of the North's response to the ‘Thank Your Parents' trilogy's drumless droney Absolute II in 2011, was the skittering snare abuse and technicolour noise monoliths of Steep Formations in 2012. Likewise, the project has responded to the cavernous drone jamming of last year's A List of Burning Mountains with this installment, Sub Contra. The name could either be a telling indication of the music's genesis, or indeed a description of the depths to which the music wishes to plunge to. The music feels very much as if it were made in response to Mountains, accordingly delving down into subterraneans where that record soared high above them. Drama Class kicks off with a wall of droning noise which, save for the drums, is nearly impossible to dissect between bass, guitar and keyboards. The fuzzed out passages of noodling and lumbering drum punctuation evoke a pounding struggle, beating its way through an unknown barrier, searching for purchase. The effect is almost dirge-like, painting a picture far darker than anything these musicians have done before, as if the eternal search for truth within the Ocropolis finally started losing hope.

 This feeling of unease and struggle, along with the general timbre of the record, barely wavers throughout. A sort of free-improvisation approach to drone doom, with flashes of the Berlin School's darkest moments (ushered in via vintage organs and keyboards periodically drifting across the mix). Kid Millions' drumming remains the most recognisable and distinguishable part of the cosmic slop and this is some of his most restrained and powerfully subtle work yet. Set finisher, Osage Orange in particular sees Millions at his most numbingly restrained, his skin work sounding like an old Rashied Ali solo played at 8¼ RPM, changing direction and avoiding new clichés every nano second. The eponymous piece is a brief, two-part mini-suite - the tracks 3:30 and 2:44 long respectively. It's some of the most concise work to come out of the Ocropolis for a quite a while, and supposedly aims to capture the spirit of the Louise Bogan poem of the same name. The two parts of Sub Contra differ very little, and feel like microcosmic miniatures of the longer tracks bookending the album. Furthermore, they do seem to follow Bogan's poem, almost using them as instructions ("Build there some thick chord of wonder / Then, for every passion's sake, / Beat upon it till it break."). Bogan's evocatively described "fine noise of riven things" is as apt a description as any of People of the North. This is music that's clamouring to stay together, nearly shattering at any moment.

 The one hiatus from the noisy clamour of guitar/organ and lumbered collapsing percussion is on Coal Baron. A drifting duet for Farfisa and Echoplex, the tune unsurprisingly exhumes the spirit of Cluster II and Tangerine Dream's Atem for an atmospheric moment of contrastingly uplifting synthetic ambience. The atmosphere and aesthetic of Coal Baron still works within the album however, as this - like all of the Oneida gang's recent output - is a the sound of a band composing not in notes, but in atmospheres. This abstract expressionist approach is something that People of the North do even better than their parent band. Perhaps the result of mere experience, or indeed the advantage of having the facilities and budget to play and record seemingly endlessly in the Ocropolis, but Sub Contra sees the logical progression and improvement of A List Of Burning Mountain's daunting, dark and overpoweringly atmospheric music. As with its forefathers, the album is dense and colourful enough to hold up to repeated listening, yet one instantly yearns for more. This is truly unusual, deep and all-encompassing music, and yet another brilliant chapter in the Oneida saga.