Reflecting the cyclical nature of earth and life itself, Oneida's eighth full-length album, Happy New Year, presents ideas of death and rebirth, and the continuity, and yet tenuousness, of existence. It's a poetic work of circling guitars and melodic phrases and vocal lines repeating and layered like monastic chants. The opener, "Distress," is comprised of a four-line phrase about the fleeting nature of beauty ("So fades the lovely blooming flower/Frail, smiling solace of an hour/So soon our transient comfort flies/And pleasure only blooms to die"), with modal harmonies and haunting, sparse background music, while the dark musings of "The Misfit" explore the notion of evil and perfidiousness, referencing perhaps the character in Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man Is Hard to Find." But the band isn't trying to present an image of hopelessness, of a hell, or even a limbo from which you can never escape. Rather, they seem to be exploring the realm of purgatory, where, though it may require a great deal of time and sacrifice, there is hope of redemption. Both "Up with People" and "History's Great Navigator's" offer suggestions for improvement ("Open your eyes, the things you see/Are determined by the height of the ground you seize" and "Cross your heart, hope to die/Calm your voice, set your eye/Turn your back and go," respectively) as the band grooves along with quick drums and purposeful noise; it's all very much planned, controlled, with Oneida, acting as Virgil, guiding listeners along. Though the screeches and rumblings that occur in some of the songs (though as an album, Happy New Year is much less hard than what the band has previously produced) may occasionally seem arbitrary, in fact everything is very tightly contained. The idea of messiness is only put there to add effect, not because Oneida are losing control of their message and their statement. The record may not promise happiness or salvation, but it does propose ideas that can be contemplated in the time between the winding melodies and riffs, and perhaps one day, we too, like the Pilgrim, can continue on alone.
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AllMusic Review by Marisa Brown