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We all have a band or musician who gives us motivation. Be it Tchaikovsky or Cher, we each hold a special connection to certain songs and artists who helped us get through tough or trying times or even just helped us clear our minds when we really wanted to turn off. I'm lucky to have a few. Anything from Beethoven or Mozart will chill me the eff out (even the faster more dancey numbers with a good drum beat behind them...ahem). Mostly anything from Alanis Morissette will bring a secret and rough feeling of happiness to my heart. Greenday will tend to make me want to bop around like a mindless idiot. All of them, however, have recently started to grow stale. Beethoven and Mozart stopped letting out new music years ago (something to do with being dead, how selfish). Morissette became a complete hippy and started turning out under-produced over-thought trash. Greenday decided that mascara and repeating the same songs with different lyrics was a much better road to go down. I hear that the lead singer even had to have a few stints in rehab, though I wasn't sure if it was for his new mascara addiction or something a bit more sinister (I suspect it was actually the latter). The only band that have persevered and consistently produced stuff that I still liked was a little gem called Incubus.
===If not now, when?===
Imagine my mix of utter delight and sheer horror when I realised about half an hour ago that Incubus had FINALLY let out another album, something that I had been so eagerly awaiting since their last real release (Light Grenades) in 2006. The horror came in when I realised it had actually been released in July 12th 2011 and I, to date, had heard absolutely bog all about it. Only when I was searching for Incubus on Dooyoo did I notice an album cover I had never seen before. Instantly I logged on to Amazon and bought an actual physical copy of the album for just over £7 and got excited about it arriving in three to twelve days. Sigh. If you just want to download a copy it will cost £4.35 which is a bit more of a deal.
===Nice to know you===
Being one of the most motivational bands I know, I fell in love with incubus when my older brother introduced me to them. That was 2002; I was 15 and had pretty much missed everything they had released. Huzzah.
Incubus was formed in 1991 by lead singer and absolute beauty (when he's had a hair cut) Brandon Boyd. Even his name has a perfect ring to it. He plays a few instruments including the digery doo, but can't actually read music and has otherwise had no training. He also dabbles in quite a lot of art and is covered in tattoos. Bass guitarist Ben Kenny, who is also not terrible looking, joined the band in 2003, playing not just bass but drums and guitar also (and apparently a few other undisclosed instruments). Drummer José Passilas is another good looking and long standing member of the band with no actual musical training and, like Brandon, enjoys his artwork. Dj and Keyboard player Chris Killmore joined the band in 1998 when the original turn-table-ist was fired. Lastly, Mike Einziger is the Guitarist who co-founded and co-writes a lot of incubus's music. He began studying music at Harvard University in 2008, a whole 17 years after founding the band.
The bands earlier music was, admittedly, very strange. Starting out with Fungous Amongus in 1995 on their own record label the album had a weird mixture of funk, heavy metal and rap which continued into their next (and first major label) release Enjoy Incubus. By the time S.C.I.E.N.C.E was released in 1997 the band had picked up a lot of flack for just being pants in general. S.C.I.E.N.C.E started to introduce a lot of heavier rock elements but still kept the really weird stuff in there, such as the track Magic Medicine which is mostly a recording of a woman reading a kids book being scratched and flipped all over the place. It makes me think of a really rough earlier version of a much more famous song by the Avalanches called Frontier Psychiatrist.
===You are Stellar===
Two years later in 1999 Incubus had finally gotten the mix of weird just about right and had a massive hit album with Make Yourself. They had toned down the bizarre ever so slightly and turned from tracks pack full of heavy rock to tracks made of a slightly lighter and more alternative version of rock. They even threw in a few absolutely beautifully melancholic acoustic songs, turning out an absolutely perfect album. My hard rock obsessed brother loved it, my more pop orientated parents loved it. It was an album that you really couldn't fault much. Apart from track 10, Battlestar Scralactica which returned quite suddenly to their jarring funk-scratch weird flavoured roots. Skip that one.
Close on the back of this one, in 2001 came Morning view. The style emulated "Make Yourself" brilliantly while still sounding fresh and new. The rock had calmed a touch instead letting some softer sounding and beautiful music shine through. Even the structure of the songs on this album are completely different than a lot of music I've heard before making it really stand out. This album didn't even have one clanker which is probably why it went triple platinum.
===Left of Incubus ===
The album "A crow left of the Murder" in 2004 saw a return to the rockier side of incubus but still kept the stranger influences under wrap. Another fantastic album without a bad song on it left me gagging for more and two years later in 2006 "Light Grenades" quenched my thirst. A similar sound to "Crow" could be heard with some belting tracks but for the first time in a long time, the majority of the album felt a little bit like filler. Ever the true fan, however, I persevered and the tracks that at first seemed a bit dull grew on me like the fungus that incubus started out with. Since Light Grenades the only albums to have been released were "greatest hit" albums providing little new material. The band even went on "hiatus" while they all got married and had babies and went back to school.
===Now. That's when===
So much to my excitement, the new album has arrived on my doorstep and I'm popping it in to play. I've been incredibly worried to read a lot of criticism of the album sounding like elevator music. The cover doesn't fill me with confidence being a very bland picture of (I assume) Brandon Boyd from a distance on a tightrope. Other than the fact he's on a tightrope nothing much is happening in this black and white presentation. This lacks the colourful, artistic and beautiful offerings that previous covers have given, instead opting for a very mute and uninspiring scene. Maybe it is supposed to symbolise the band trying to achieve balance in their lives, maybe it was just a poor choice.
Rather frustratingly, the inside of the album cover (which folds out) doesn't include the lyrics for any of the songs. Instead it features a slightly more interesting spread of the band members doing various martial-arty poses, floating matrix style in mid air. All still in black and white. The back of the fold out seems a bit pretentious as the only information it really gives you is who each band member wants to thank. It all seems a bit like they have either won and award for the album (which they haven't) or that they aren't coming back again (which they haven't said one way or another). Normally thanks are hidden right at the back of a book filled with lyrics and stuff. This, however, is the only information and its right there, very clear to read. I'm not sure I like it.
The disc, on the other hand is gorgeous. It's a silver background some black swirly writing all over it. The writing is the lyrics of the title track "If Not Now, When" spiralling from the outside of the disc into the centre with the bands name in a small bold stamp at the bottom. It really is beautiful. Maybe there still is some hope? Hopefully the music will jump out at me a bit more than the cover did. Let's jump into the tracks and see what they say to it all!
1. If Not Now, When? - 5:05
"Don't you feel there's something missing here? Don't you dare!"
I've had that Tracy Chapman song stuck in my head from the minute I heard the title of the album. Hopefully the first track will be (a) completely different and (b) catchy enough to erase the tune from my mind. The lyrics are worryingly prophetical as to how I may feel about the track. Thankfully this track has proved the prophecy wrong and perked me up considerably. A second of doubt at the beginning when I heard the U2-still-haven't-found-what-I'm-looking-for-80'-esq beat was quickly overturned when the violins that echoed previous albums (light grenades) got into full flow. It turned out to be a nice chilled out but vocally brilliant first track. The composition was a little strange in true incubus style, it done all the right things and put me in a fairly good mood. A decent opening track and instantly I felt better about the album.
2. Promises, Promises - 4.26
"I'm on the road of least resistance; I'd rather give up than give in to this"
I was confused. It sounded all of a sudden like Sheryl Crow had gotten a hold of incubus and given them a fairly decent song. A bit of a quirky piano and guitar background with hints of pop and country with a slightly stranger feel dances like a happy child along in the background. I liked parts of it, though it occasionally felt a little disjointed and like it was building to some massive release that just didn't happen. There are a couple of good bits to sing along with and upon a second listen I enjoyed it much more. It's a grower at least. So not a thumbs down, but not quite a thumbs up for this track which was the second single released from the album.
3. Friends and Lovers - 4:07
"If they throw stones, start a collection of everything we're not"
This one could have been much better. The beginning was promising with a nice guitar riff with some good bass thunking away in the background. To start with it sounds like it could be a good song but by the time you hit the chorus all the drive has been sucked out of the song and it feels a bit dead in the water. The lyrics don't do much in bolstering my opinion of the song, feeling ill thought out at the best of times and seeming to push on us that it's ok to have nookie with your friends. Which yes, it is, but it feels a bit preachy. It also, for some reason, makes me think of Alanis Morissette in that the words seem to be pronounced slightly strangely to fit the song. A second listen made it feel not as terrible but I'm veering towards a thumbs down for this track.
4. Thieves - 4:17
"Selling us water by the river, they don't speak for everyone"
The beginning of this one hits you with a very oriental style tune plinky-plonking away over a strong bass line. It actually ends up being quite chilled out again. I found the lyrics to be a touch repetitive however the chorus is good and picks the song up a little which was much required. After one listen I could still easily recall and sing the chorus so it's definitely catchy! At this point I'm still waiting for something upbeat and hoping that this is not an album full of "chill out" songs.
5. Isadore - 4:35
"Blinded by their unbridled height, our lovers turned dissolute"
The intro here had me rather excited. Starting off with a lovely strummed guitar and then kicking in a beat that reminds me of a version of Burning Down the House by The Used. It's quite atmospheric. When the lyrics kick in, almost straight away I want to know who Isadore is. This song is possibly my favourite one so far with some catchy bits. Boyd's vocals are shining in it and making me sing along even on my first listen. The lyrics can feel a bit over-pronounced at times but mostly this track gets a good rating from me. It seems to be a story of a couple who have risen to their peak and then failed catastrophically... but I may be wrong. Either way it has a very interesting story to it if you listen carefully. It's still not exactly a "jump-around-singing-along-like-an-idiot" track which is a shame, but still a firm track.
6. The Original - 5:05
"There is a ghost in my house rattling handles on every door. Show us an open window or two would you?"
I was certain for most of this song it was destined to be all floaty again despite being woken by the beat after the initial (and admittedly very pretty) opening bars of acoustic guitar. A fantastic build up made me think the song was about to break out into complete mayhem, but instead it just cut back to light guitar after the build leaving me frustrated. Incubus's harder side kicks in near the end but too far away from the start to hold interest and even when it does, it's still all very slow and calm(ish). The lyrics feel forced and repetitive but the rockier side is definitely starting to wake up, hopefully it will continue into some other tracks, especially since we are half way through with no firm upbeat rocky tracks. Mostly my thoughts on this one was that it was too long (even at 5:05) and felt clunky and uncomfortable at the best of times. It might grow, but it's definitely not going to be one of my favourites.
7. Defiance - 2:19
"Defiance, our most awakened inclination and your elegant aberration"
THIS! This is an absolutely beautiful song. It's upsettingly short, however. They could have made more out of it. This is basically Boyd singing over the top of an acoustic guitar (possibly two, but most likely just one being played incredibly well). The chorus is very catchy, the lyrics don't feel like they are not feeling well and can't be bothered. It's up-beat but subdued due to the acoustic nature of the song and to be honest, they probably could have done a much heavier version of the song with some electric guitars and awesome stuff going on. Previous albums have seen their heavier songs being re-recorded in acoustic versions and turning out fantastically and I feel this one could easily work the other way round. It tells me that they can still do stuff; I just feel they maybe missed a trick on making this one acoustic right off the bat. Still, a full thumbs up from me.
8. In the Company of Wolves - 7:35
"In the company of wolves I sat in silence, observant and afraid"
I thought for most of this song that it was really nice of Incubus to let Coldplay put a song on the album. I was utterly convinced that I could play this to my mum and have her ask "ooo is that Coldplay's new song?" and I'd not even be able to roll my eyes much at the question. Thankfully I quite like Coldplay. The first half of the song is good. Still too laid back for the 8th song into the album and I was still waiting for something to happen. Around the halfway point the music all but stops and practically fades into a second song (it's not a second song, it's all connected). At this point the song starts to feel like the band didn't know what they were doing. The Lyrics become incredibly repetitive. Boyd even stops singing in favour of almost speaking the words and he sounds like he is grasping for straws. It's uncomfortable. The second half could have easily been taken away from the song. The end starts getting a bit heavier but then just kind of dwindles off into nothing like they all got bored of it. Thumbs down.
9. Switchblade - 3:27
"They are swift like a switchblade. Switchblade, switchblade, they are swift like a switchblade, switchblade"
Musically I liked this song. It was quite funky, very upbeat, still not quite their usual standard but refreshing after all the terribly chilled out music that came before. The beat reminds me of Let Forever Be by the Chemical Brothers which is one of my favourite songs. The lyrics, however, are bloody awful. They just repeat around and around and around and most of them mean not an awful lot to anyone who isn't the song writer. It sounds like he's saying he doesn't mind going after girls with a switchblade which I'm certain isn't what he maybe intended people to think. It makes Boyd sound either a bit rapey or completely scared of women to the point he needs to carry a knife when they are in the vicinity and I honestly can't decide which message comes through stronger here. Overall I'd have to give the song a thumbs down which is upsetting since it was the first really upbeat song of the album (NINE SONGS IN!!??!).
10. Adolescents - 4:48
"It's getting out of line, line, line, line, I know I'm not alone, just adolescents you and I"
Finally the Incubus I know and love comes out in this song. Definitely rocky, fast and Boyd's vocal acrobatics cover my spine in chills. Once I've heard this a few more times I can definitely see me singing along with this one at the top of my voice. The verses do seem a little lyrically lazy but the chorus gives a good strong, sing-a-long-able burst which perked me up to no end. The end did seem to come to a bit of an abrupt stop but overall this song is a very strong track. That's probably why this was the first single released from the album. A good choice!
11. Tomorrow's Food - 4:19
"Does it feel like the end of the world? Well maybe it is, but when was it not?"
This song has an absolutely gorgeous picky-acoustic start which reminds me quite a bit of Mumford and sons. It's a very atmospheric and chilling song with some violins gearing up in the background behind the picky, echoey guitar. Boyd speaks and sings, creating harmonies with himself that left me with goose bumps. I really enjoyed this track though I was a little disappointed that the singing stopped about two and a half minutes in leaving the rest of the track to a build up of violins, guitars, echoes and noises that then quickly diminish to nothing when it's time for the track to end. Another track that they could have easily put a little more effort into to make it an absolutely stunning piece of music. Instead it ends up on a very lack-lustre note, taking away from the amazing first half of the song.
This was a bit of a strange album from Incubus. I can see why the critics said it was like elevator music in that almost the whole album was incredibly chilled out with no real excitement going on which is incredibly rare for Incubus. I wouldn't be quite as harsh though. Almost all the songs were good. Even the ones I didn't particularly enjoy grew on me on further listening and that's quite a normal occurrence with a band with such a unique style (even though a lot of it sounded like other people). You can still tell it's them.
The main issue I have is that all of these songs would be great interspersed on albums with a better range of songs. On their own they are fine. As an album, however, the whole thing feels like a little bit of a trudge with a frustrating lack of movement. I'll be taking a star off for that. A few of the songs are cut short just when they are getting brilliant and others continue on much longer than they really needed to with repetitive lyrics that don't know where they are going. That's another star off for that. The usually deep and meaningful musically brilliant Incubus just seem quite lazy on this album and while it's not the worst album, it's also not their best work. Still, enough of the tracks do make me want to listen to them again, though I'll probably be ripping them onto my computer and creating my own playlist with a few more energetic songs in between to balance it out. The price for the CD was a little expensive though the download price is a bit more reasonable. Nothing to quibble about if you are a fan anyway! Overall, three out of five stars from me for an album that was just a bit of chill-out overkill.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 If Not Now, When?
2 Promises, Promises
3 Friends and Lovers
6 The Original
8 In The Company Of Wolves
11 Tomorrowâ??s Food