El Bicho's Hive

A Collection of Reviews Covering the Worlds of Art and Entertainment alongside other Snobbish Ramblings.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Umphrey’s McGee
Sci Fidelity Records

Umphrey’s McGee is a very intriguing band because it is made up of musicians who play music for the sole purpose of playing music. Rather than writing calculated pop songs that appeal to the lowest common denominator, they challenge the listener, almost daring them, to follow the band down a rabbit hole to their sonic wonderland.

They aren’t bound by genre as their current album Anchor Drops will attest to. Their musical style seamlessly shifts from jam band to progressive rock to soft jazz; it changes from track to track and sometimes even within the same song. Not wanting to leave any form untapped, they even have a country song in the form of “Bullhead City.”

The whole band is obviously talented and there is so much going on with each instrument that I’m surprised they come out of a jam band scene, albeit the very small scene from South Bend. The compositions are so complex that there doesn’t appear to be any room for jamming or improvisation. That is because five of the members lay down a solid foundation, allowing the sixth member to venture out with the security that he’ll always be able to find his way back, making the solos appear to have a structure to them.

The bass work of Ryan Stasik is fantastic. It drew me in right from the very first listen of the CD. Along with the bass are a drummer, a percussionist and a keyboardist that lay down a tight rhythm section for the twin guitars to play off of. The weakest element on the album are the lyrics; most coming across like nonsensical poetry and bad journal entries. They could easily be removed and replaced by anything else. They aren’t integral and only distract from the quality of the music.

There are so many influences that make their way into the band’s sound that listing them all would look like a music store’s inventory; however, this is not a distraction. Unlike some recording artists whose influences seep through the music, resulting in them being little more than glorified cover bands, Umphrey’s McGee have taken all that they have learned and blended it into music that sounds fresh and new. They even use strange audio backgrounds, such as in “Robot World,” further expanding their audio palette.

While I recommend this album, I do caution listeners. Umphrey’s McGee is such an unusual hybrid that it might not work for everyone. If you like your music simple and straightforward, there might be too much going on for you to take it all in. For those of you who are more daring in their musical tastes, I would suggest the audio adventure that is Anchor Drops.