When Brooklyn bands first started to litter the pages of the world music press at the onset of this decade, Oneida had already been actively recording for three years. As peers like Liars, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and TV on the Radio found fame and blew up, the band hunkered down with its manic repetitions, finding tighter packages and more pleasing forms for continually sinister grooves. But despite a stellar three-album run in which the band’s evil kraut sound flirted with pop arrangements and vocal sweetness, Oneida never seemed to gain more than sterling critical notices and top billing at whatever loft space they turned into a sweat lodge that particular week.
So now, over a decade old and with nothing much to prove to anybody, the old workhorse is ready to dive into some serious self-indulgence. Their new LP, Preteen Weaponry, is a mostly improvised instrumental workout split into three sections, each one over ten minutes in length. The album is conceived as the opening leg of three connected releases called the “Thank Your Parents” triptych (with the next release planned as a massive triple LP). But for a project that’s been tinkered with for nearly three years, it sounds remarkably unfocused and unfinished. These guys have successfully navigated long-form songs before, ramping up the momentum on simple repeating motifs until they became a locked death march toward oblivion. Preteen Weaponry’s pieces never gain enough steam to let the listener in on that compulsion. The driving rhythm of the first section seems disconnected from the ambient buzzing around it. The second section gets points for adding vocal textures but never even attempts a compelling structure. The spacey third section is an improvement, but hardly a redemption.
The band likely sees this project as a proper representation of their chest-quivering shows. But a record is not a concert, even if it is largely recorded live. And as a record, these compositions fail to connect. While Oneida has definitely earned the right to make an album (or three) entirely for themselves, Preteen Weaponry will seduce few listeners beyond that intended demographic.