Spread out over three discs for maximum inefficiency, Oneida’s Rated O seems to thrive on its own difficulty, both in sprawling presentation and a strident, noisy sense of sonic resistance. Opener “Brownout in Lagos” is throbbing and bombastic, setting up a thick jungle of effects, from echoes to fuzzed-out, impossibly bassy beats. Overladen with vocal samples and all kinds of piercing touches, “What’s Up Jackal” continues this busy attack, creating a feel of frenzied confusion that flows throughout the first disc. The bristly layers placed over these tracks seem intentioned specifically to challenge, and they do, creating songs that are hard to ignore, even if this isn’t always in a positive sense. The grating vocals on “The Human Factor,” for example, stand somewhere between strangely intriguing and unbearable. Rated O seems assured of its confrontational stance, be it through violently upfront noisiness or the strained sense of ornate presentation that comes along with a triple album.
If the first disc is defined by electronic madness, the second is more rock oriented, scaling back to manageable song lengths, standard structures, and basic instrumentation. There’s the temptation to define it as a curative balm for the harsh rebuke offered earlier, though this dissipates as it moves along, the songs becoming looser and more experimental. This is the album’s weakest section, lacking the roaring intensity of the first disc as well as its focus, losing itself in ungainly psych-rock shambles that fiddle weakly with noise effects. “I Was a Wall,” on the other hand, ends things strongly with an excellent garage burst, and “Luxury Travel” provides a nice rebuttal to the experimentation, employing a strangely ridiculous chant section and a higher sense of energy.
The third disc acts as a combination of the first two, the wacked-out size and scope of the first (three songs, 38 minutes) combined with the spacey explorations of the second. “O” is a sturdy digression that finds time to fool around with sitar, surging guitar waves, and ambient keyboard noise in one long, undulating stream. Appropriately, “Folk Wisdom” takes things out on a digressive note, a fitting end for an album that, clocking in at over two hours, struggles against rules and expectations. At a time when music is becoming more and more compact, Rated O finds a band that refuses to be contained in any type of neat package.