New York’s Onyx Collective are one of the most exciting bands operating in music today. For a few year’s they were a hushed rumour in certain circles; “You heard about Onyx?” I’d get asked frequently. The answer was always a resounding yes.
Their 2016 debut ‘2nd Avenue Rundown’ was dubbed an instant classic due to how it had the passion and of a lo-fi punk album. This was followed up by 2017’s ‘Lower East Suite Part 1 and 2’. Their full debut, ‘Lower East Suite Part 3’ came in 2018. It showed they weren’t just a fluke and could release a longer, cohesive body of work.
Now they’ve returned with a new 'album' ‘World Of Possibility’. Kind of. Originally released last year as a super limited cassette with Slam Jam exclusively at Big Love Records in Tokyo*. Of course, it sold out in a minute, so now the band have released it as a download on their Bandcamp.
The project is broken up into two half hour tracks. ‘World Of Possibility’ feels akin to what they have released before. The grooves are deep and there is that playful vibe that permeates all their best song. That isn’t to say this, and they aren’t serious, they are, but you get the impression that the band are playing for the love of it, rather than churning out another song.
After a few moments you realise that the album isn’t just two super long cuts, but a collection of shorter songs. Some of the songs are nothing more than a bassline/beat and a few lyrics over the top, they show that the band are on a buoyant mood, creatively. It feels like each snippet could easily be extended live, or on the next album, into something monumental.
The highlights of ‘World Of Possibility’ are when the band just let the songs evolve before our ears and follow the groove to it’s conclusion. They aren’t fighting to make the songs fit in with each other. Instead they are letting them overrun into one another. The centre piece of the side is a trilling vocal that floats above a gossamer backing track. This is followed by some murky hip-hop before the groove kicks in again.
If ‘World Of Possibility’ was about groove, ‘Back In The Game’ is more about feeling. ‘Back In The Game’ opens with a more abstract vibe. After some spoken word samples over dreamy horns, tinkling keys dance from the speakers. This ethereal reverie carries on until some spoken word kicks in and things take on a more fiendish vibe.
As the tape progresses more avant-garde, and noise, motifs start to appear. Sheer static, layered drumming that sounds like it was created on upturned paint pots, the sound of a building site and distressed horns create a disorienting experience. There are parts that sound like the track is being played on a Walkman running out of batteries. This creates comforting drones that. Then abruptly it stops and a huge breakbeat kicks in. It sounds like Onyx Collective are playing along with one of their favourite tracks in their rehearsal space.
Instead of a fully formed album ‘World Of Possibility’ is made up of a lot of snippets and rough sketches/ideas, instead of long-form fleshed out songs. At times it feels like Onyx’s take on the Beastie Boys’ classic ‘B Boy Bouillabaisse’. The tracks bleed into each other, giving it a live mix feel, rather than a collection of studio recordings sandwiched together.
While this isn’t an official follow up to ‘Lower East Suite Part 3’ they have followed their friend and collaborator Princess Nokia by releasing a mixtape while the official follows up is being work on. The project more than matches their previous album for ideas and devastating melodies. At times ‘World Of Possibility’ sounds like someone is flicking through radio stations lingering briefly on the ones that interest them before going off on their quest to find the perfect song.
On ‘World of Possibility’ Onyx Collective deliver on their early hype. Yes, the East Suite releases are brilliant, but they also felt a little safe, here they show what they are capable of. This is a messy, lo-fi ramshackle album that confuses as much as it elucidates and shows that Onyx Collective offer a world of possibilities hitherto unrealised.
Words: Nick Roseblade
• If anyone has this, or 2nd Avenue Rundown, please hit me up!
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