Excepting a collaboration with legendary post-minimalist composer Rhys Chatham, Romance is Oneida's first studio full-length since the building that hosted their Brooklyn recording studio, the Ocropolis, was demolished in 2011. Oneida were hardly inactive, however; they toured throughout America and Europe and released several limited live recordings and singles, in addition to their extracurricular projects such as People of the North and Man Forever. While the group's early-2010s albums (Absolute II and A List of the Burning Mountains) were bleak, challenging excursions that nearly jettisoned rock & roll influences altogether, Romance is significantly lighter and more listener-friendly, but still highly eclectic, daring, and unpredictable. The album's 11 tracks are carefully sculpted collages of frazzled electronics, panoramic drumming, angular riffs, and trippy vocals. The album was recorded mainly at the Menegroth studio in New York, but recordings also originate from the Secret Project Robot art space, a house in Barcelona, and even the group's defunct studio. On Krautrock-indebted tracks like "All in Due Time," the group sounds equally gritty and spacy, balancing propulsive drumming with sputtering feedback and clear, direct vocals. "It Was Me" is more unhinged, with sporadic, bit-crushed drums interrupting shaky organ loops and echo-scattered singing. "Lay of the Land" is the epic centerpiece, with tricky drumwork providing an insistent pulse as atmospheric synth drones levitate, unusual textures shift, and guitar fuzz nearly crushes everything by the end. "Reputation" sounds like the Silver Apples driven to the brink of paranoia, while "Cockfight" is a direct throwback to the group's garage punk roots, but with a bright, thick layer of glowing synths. The group lets loose for the spaced-out 18-minute finale, "Shepherd's Axe," sounding lost and seeking the light through drifting synths, free jazz drumming, and abrasive guitars. Romance is a sprawling beast of an album, but it's more focused and accessible than it might seem, and it's certainly not as alienating as some of their previous LPs. Oneida never left, so this isn't a comeback by any means, but they certainly seem re-energized, making this their best work in at least a decade.
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AllMusic Review by Paul Simpson