A collection of ideas for your interest and for the benefit of my mental health.

19 July 2011

If Not Now, Ben?

A week ago today I was surprised by an email containing the hotly anticipated new Incubus record, If Not Now, When?  even though I totally knew to expect a download on release day.  Eagerly I followed the retarded file delivery system they used, taking the exclusive track Surface to Air with me in a flurry of excitement and anticipation.  In retrospect, I should have expected what was to come from the track previews I had listened to some months earlier.

Beyond the simple and clean cover, harkening back to the olden days of Incubus with their original mainstream era logo, is a Brandon Boyd album!  Again, looking back, this should have been obvious.  Here is a trapeze artist, and lo, B Boyd's solo album released last year is entitled The Wild Trapeze!  Moreover, does this lone figure represent the creative control of the frontman and the one-man nature of this record?  Perhaps.  The pieces of the puzzle are all falling into place, rather after the fact.

I should have prefaced this post with a little about my affair with Incubus.  I was fortunate enough to discover the band through Halo 2 for which they wrote an epic almost-instrumental called The Odyssey.  Enamoured with the fusion of styles and sheer musicianship I turned to their, at the time, 14 year back catalogue and discovered their avant garde metal beginnings and their evolution, teetering on the edge of Californian nu-metal and progressing and maturing towards their soon to be released album Light Grenades.  I admired this band for their willingness to change their style constantly, and to always sound like the band they were.  I religiously followed the band's releases, snapping up their greatest hits on day one and hunting down their contributions to soundtracks and compilations.  I was in.

2011 rolls along.  After a 5 year break from studio albums, Incubus returns with their audacious World HQ website providing fans with direct links to the management, merchandise, tours and eventually exclusive performances in the real life Incubus HQ rehearsal space in LA.  I was lucky enough to attend a rather small gig in Kentish Town back in June, where the hits were brought out and a couple of the new tunes we were all meant to have heard were exhibited live and direct for the first time.  This was an elaborate smokescreen for the change of style, change of pace, and change of feeling that was about to confront me.  For when I tuned into INNW, what I found was a beautiful album by a band I had never heard before.

The mixing,or rather Brandon's dominance in the mix, sets this apart from Incubus.  The instrumentation yields to Brandon even at whispering pace whereas once, he would scream and shout over the riffs of songwriting partner and guitar hero Mike Einziger.  The lyrics, always poetic and nebulous in this band whether due to pot or to impulse and intellect, are more confounding and faux-literary than ever; Brandon is incorporating ever more lines from poems and quotations he has read, much as he did in his first album last year.  Stylistically, it bears little resemblance to The Wild Trapeze but this is not to say anyone else in the band got input.

Empty Orchestra.  Hauntingly beautiful.

I spent a large part of yesterday wondering how DJ Kilmore came to be a keyboardist in the last 5 years, whether this was his willing choice or more of a desperate attempt to stay in a decreasingly electronic band.  Could his current subdued and even barely noticable role in the band really be seen as his own conscious desire or really more of a compromise with the band leader(s?)?  I do wonder if Kil sees the band as a sort of 'why not' opportunity among other creative outlets in contrast to the original core of the band (Mike, Jose and Brandon).  I sense a similar vibe from Ben Kenney, a very talented musician and currently my absolute favourite in the band not necessarily for his input to the band (which has seen a maturity and a move away from the complex, bass driven funk of the earlier years).  Ben has released 4 solo albums, was a member of the wonderful Roots (themselves now a house band on a talk show sadly) and runs his own record label in Ghetto Crush.  It seems to me that he has little stake in the band either, and though his work is impressive it has little resemblance to what he obviously wants to record the most (and has).

The band could be said to be stronger for its members' side projects but are these really an effort to exercise the creative control the members cannot when in the studio with Brandon and to a lesser extent Mike? Looking back to Morning View, the last album with bassist Alex Katunich, we can see a level of involvement from all.  There is a strong bass focus on a couple of songs, turntables are spinning, guitars are roaring, drums are as usual fantastic.  I am failing to think how a similar synergy could be present in the bands newest material which seems like a man with his backing vocals.

Do not mistake this as a rant or as a dig at the album, or at Brandon Boyd.  I have enjoyed The Wild Trapeze and If Now Now, When? immensely so far (the former far more than the latter however!) and both are credits to their creators.  This does not mean that I have to say INNW is a good Incubus record.  Through 20 years of music they have set the bar very high and now we have to face a tinge of disappointment at their departure from adolesence (coincidentally, Adolescents is one of the most Incubusy tracks on the disc).

By the way, here is a review of the album which totally looks like I plagiarised it but in fact I just found it via Metacritic. Thanks a bunch, Joe Rivers.

 Part Deux

A few listens later, I felt I should return to this blog post.  I think I have some more important things to say. 

After some days listening to BBC Radio 6 Music (for research purposes only) and having dipped my toe in the indy waters of today I can only guess that Incubus, or rather Mr Boyd, were hoping to craft an indy record here.  And they have failed.  For this too I think we can thank Mr Boyd; a man who can sing too well, and who writes lyrics too poetic, to allow this record all the indy credibility it cries out for.  Some bands are destined for different things.  Those without a more technical singer tend towards independent ways, whereas more proficiency often launches a group towards mainstream rock success or even into metal territory.

Which can't really explain this, admittedly.
I've also been able to spend some time with the album's B-sides, one which I received by preordering, one which I've sneakily listened to on youtube and finally one released on the band's new (and splendid) Incubus HQ app.  Happily I can say my favourite band is present on these recordings.  So the entire sessions are not a bust for the old guard.  I say, we could salvage a decent Incubus EP from this experiment.

My hot picks for the If Not Now, When? EP.
  1. Surface To Air
  2. Hold Me Down
  3. Defiance
  4. Rebel Girls
  5. In The Company Of Wolves
  6. Switchblade
  7. Promises, Promises
  8.  If Not Now, When?
OK so this clocks in at over half an hour, but it would be too skimpy for an album.  I have created a storyline following a poor woman, constricted by her social and geographical situation daring to break the status quo.  In her search for relationship she falls into bad company but is rescued by the right person and takes a huge step in her life.  There's a hidden concept album in these sessions.  Interesting.

In order to celebrate Incubus' prime export of the year, here is Ben Kenney's sweet video Burn The Tapes.

Burn The Tapes from Ghetto Crush Industries on Vimeo.

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