Expensive Air
(Joyful Noise)
Add date: 7.23.2024
Release date: 7.19.2024

Apple Music
Joyful Noise

A song is a song until it isn’t, until it’s pushed to its limits and beyond to become harder, faster and more dissonant. The music on Oneida’s 17th full-length album, Expensive Air, all started as tightly structured, melodic rock songs—very much in line with the non-stop bangers of Success from 2022—but along the way, they changed. 

Bobby Matador sketched the structures of these songs from his home base in Boston, then sent the demos to Oneida’s New York contingent: Kid Millions, Hanoi Jane, Shahin Motia and Barry London.  “We were working out the songs in New York without Bobby. We would start out riding the riffs, and then Shahin and Jane would add wild, out-of-tune licks,” said Kid Millions. “It seemed so perfect.”  

Matador points to the incandescent tangle of guitar noise at the beginning of “Here It Comes,” as an example. “That’s a very song-like cut, but the way it starts with Shahin’s guitar riff is so gnarly and beautiful. To me, that encapsulates the record, the way it merges the melodic aspects with a dark psychedelic approach.” 

Oneida has long straddled gray-area boundaries between the NYC punk/psych/rock world and the art/experimental world, playing at gritty rock clubs and elevated cultural institutions, including the Guggenheim, MoMA PS1, ICA London, MassMOCA and the Knoxville Museum of Art. The band has been known for extended live improvisational performances, collaborating onstage with Mike Watt, members of Flaming Lips, Portishead, Boredoms, Yo La Tengo, Dead C, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and many others. Oneida’s members juggle a wide variety of other music projects. Drummer Kid Millions has played with Spiritualized, Royal Trux and Boredoms and releases solo compositions under his own name and as Man Forever. Shahin Motia founded noise-punk’s Ex Models and currently plays in Knyfe Hits. Kid and Fat Bobby perform and release music as People of the North, and Bobby's outside projects New Pope and Nurse & Soldier each released new albums in 2023.

Oneida’s previous album, Success, came after a four-year hiatus, unleashing the band’s pent up creative energy in a set of catchy, accessible, nearly poppy songs. Song structure remained important in the run up towards Expensive Air, but so was the instinctual, improvisatory interplay that has always been a part of Oneida’s process. The band had been playing live together for two years, sharpening its attack and pushing its songs to go harder, faster and wilder. 

One thing that’s different about Expensive Air is that Matador plays the bass on nearly all the songs. It’s an instrument he’s played off and on throughout Oneida’s run, but never this much. “It’s very unusual to have Bobby playing mostly bass. Because he’s one of the greatest combo-organists there is,” said Millions. 

The way the band worked with demos was also important, as Oneida’s members got increasingly comfortable with using Matador’s recordings as a jumping off point. “I’d send off a demo, and everybody understood that that wasn’t the recipe for the song,” Matador says. “It was more like, here’s an idea, and then the rest of the band interpreted it and sent me back recordings of what they were doing. It was a cool shaping process.” 

And finally the album is different from other recent efforts because of the presence of guests, particularly Thalia Zedek, who sings on the title track as well as “Here It Comes.” The band’s members have known Zedek for many years, and Kid Millions, Bobby Matador and she performed together in the summer of 2023. “We have a party about once a summer where we have bands and play Neil Young songs,” said Matador. "The three of us played 'See the Sky about to Rain' and just felt the weight of it in the air."

In the fall, as the band found themselves groping around in “Expensive Air”— a tune about social alienation and angst — Millions remembered the weight of that performance and suggested inviting Zedek to add her hard-earned gravity to the song. "It really needed to go deeper, and Thalia was able to bring that depth," says Millions. "We struggled a little bit with that tune, making it happen, but once we heard Thalia on there with Bobby it was like wow, we made it — we're here." 

Oneida recorded Expensive Air in three sessions scattered across 2023, convening at Colin Marston’s Menegroth The Thousand Caves studio in Woodhaven, Queens, whenever they had a few songs ready. Marston and the band mixed the album in February 2024 at Menegroth.

The new album expands on what Oneida achieved with Success, but also pushes past it, laying down irresistible song structures then blowing them to psychedelic bits. “I found myself thinking about this record as a darker, looser, louder, counterpart to Success,” he explains. “Both records charge forward from the jump and mix the elliptical with the blunt, and longing with self-mockery. But Success is like laughing in a car gunning carelessly through an ice storm, and Expensive Air is how you laugh at yourself as the car spins into the ditch, or a tree. Same trip, but a little closer to the bone.”