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I always like looking back on how I came to some of my favorite bands as it usually results in some ridiculously absurd stories and my first experience with Incubus is no exception. It was during a large concert event back in 1999 that I had attended in order to see a few of the other groups on the bill. I actually walked out on Incubus as soon as they took the stage, before the first song, only to catch a glimpse of Brandon Boyd playing what appeared to be a large conga drum in front of some crazy psychedelic lighting on the televisions in the arena lobby.
That image was intriguing enough for me to check out the band, picking up their then most recent release Make Yourself, their back albums and every album since.
Coming out of the time of the nu-metal movement Incubus is quite an interesting band as there are few that have come out of a movement that they have become so far removed from. It's true, Incubus never really sounded like nu-metal, but as they have evolved throughout the years they have moved even farther from that moniker sounding quite different album to album. To people like me, this is exciting even if it has meant that I've had to take a few months of listening to each new album to accept each new direction.
I find that this kind of evolution has turned some people off to this band. I guess I understand that as there are few bands that have changed so much over the years, but I do find it a bit harsh and think that some open mindedness might benefit those who have trouble accepting the band's direction, especially since it's been from trippy borderline metal, towards a sort of proto punk, meets psychedelia/experimentalism, meets soaring arena rock, meets subtle pop. It's difficult to make sense of it when written and even harder to wrap your brain around when actually listening to the music, but I think this type of evolution shows the band really not content to stay still artistically, instead constantly pushing new boundaries, sometimes less than successfully, moving in often less than popular directions.
It may take me some time to adjust to each new Incubus release, but I always end up thinking they're some of the most adventurous and artistic blends of styles around. I think people should be giving this band more of a chance album to album, as they might just find some great songs that they would have otherwise missed. To illustrate the range of this band and perhaps intrigue a few people to further investigate their music (or maybe re-investigate it) I thought I'd discuss one of my favorite songs from each of their major releases.
1: "Shaft" from Fungus Amongus
The early Incubus was far funkier, but also heavier than what most people know about this band. This song is a great example of that, and it's in general pretty amusing lyrically for some reason I can't put my finger on. With a subtle opening with just hints of funk, to it's explosive massively primal choruses, this is a song of dichotomies and although each side, funk and metal are styles that Incubus would use throughout their career they never sounded as pushed to the two extremes. It's a great song though that seems to touch up on everything that the band would tackle throughout their career... the primal feel to the scream-esque choruses, the funky guitar riffs and the soaring verse lyrics are all things that would come back later. Although the band would polish their sound, never sounding quite as abrasive as the songs from this album, this song and this album are good examples that they were already moving in a lot of directions from day one.
2: "Vitamin" from Science
This may seem like the obvious choice, but "Vitamin" has remained one of, if not my favorite Incubus song to this day (and this album one of my favorites as well). It's subtle spoken word vocals with subtly psychedelic and metallic guitar riffs building into a hard rock, borderline metal jam with great riffs that pulse and echo back and forth before erupting into the emotional outpouring chorus. Lyrically this is a pretty thought provoking song as well with a complexity and intelligence that stays away from some of the more clichÃ© lyrical ideas but still has enough grit to make it hit hard. Throughout the song there are also some strange sound effects made both from record scratching and a multitude of guitar effects that make listening to the song on headphones a far more psychedelic experience and if you've ever seen the band play this one live, you may have noticed that occasionally they've exploded it into lengthy percussion exchanges in recent years. Great song recorded, even better live.
3: "The Warmth" from Make Yourself
I think part of what makes this band so interesting to me is their ability to create some of the strangest and most haunting sonic landscapes without slipping into obvious clichÃ©s...too often. They've gotten even better at it through the years, but this song is a great example from somewhat earlier in their career that this aspect has always been part of their music. With a twisting, metallic and echo drenched guitar riff, softer sided lyrics and pulsing drums and bass, the song starts off as a psychedelic sort of acid trip with it's cryptically quasi philosophical lyrics. It does build into a more straight forward hard rock song with the more atmospheric guitar parts giving way to the band's hard rock grind by the end though. This song also is uniquely haunting, but not in a Gothic way, more so in a clinical, mutated type of way before giving way to the more standard rock feel.
4: "11 AM" from Morning View
One of the more subtle songs from their catalog, although not nearly as subtle as some from this same album, "11 AM" has a slow, but great opening guitar riff, a more stripped down feel and introspective lyrics that seem to float through a type of smoky ether, but don't sound dreamy. This was always one of the band's deepest songs lyrically for me, although safer in terms of actual sound and style. It's a pretty straight forward slow, psychedelic rocker, never really sounding like overt experimentalism, but that's ok because it really puts the focus on the lyrical content as it builds back and forth between chorus and verse. When compared to the psychedelia of other songs, the more metal stylings and especially what would follow, this song sounds relatively tame and a little clichÃ© with it's layered electric and acoustic guitars parts and moving strings. Still, it's a great song a a great example of some of the compelling music this band can produce even when not being overly adventurous.
5: "Sick Sad Little World" from A Crow Left of the Murder
When this album was first released I was expecting something else entirely and that meant it took a little bit longer than I expected to really get into it. I'm glad I did though because I think this song is not only adventurous musically, but extremely exciting and compelling. With it's twisting progressive guitar riff under hanging the choruses punctuated by the quasi punk, staccato blasts that mark the verses and pulled back hauntingly subtle pre choruses it's really a song unlike anything they had written before. As a guitarist I'm also very fond of the extended solo in this song which is incredibly subtle in it's shifting textures, but extremely effective in building the mood back to the chorus. Overall, a strange song with continually changing musical styles and textures, but for some reason it works extremely well together to make a very atmospheric and ethereal song that is also pretty heavy, although not in the traditional ways at all.
6: "Diamonds and Coal" from Light Grenades
This album also took me a little while to get into, but has recently, become a mainstay in my musical rotation. Although I've really grown to like all the songs on this album for different reasons this song stands out as an absolutely great bit of songwriting. Some might say it's more pop oriented, but I see it more arena rock geared with it's pulsing feel and huge choruses. At first glance this sounds like a less adventurous song than some of the others on this album, but I think differently. Instead of being less adventurous, I see it as actually more adventurous than some of their other work, just in a completely different direction. It has incredible subtlety in it's layered sounds, guitar parts and even it's lyrics, instead of more overt artistic and musical experimentation. Sometimes to be truly creative and artistic you need to stop trying to be creative and artistic... now that's deep.
Bonus: "Crowded Elevator" from Scream 3 Soundtrack and as a b-side to a few of the Make Yourself singles (I think)
Released around the same time, this song does fit in with the Make Yourself era Incubus but still stands out in my mind. It's more progressive and haunting with less of a straight forward feel, but still using the same elements of other songs like the metallic tinged guitars, huge borderline metal choruses and slight psychedelic elements. Maybe it doesn't overtly hint at the more proto punk moments that would come on later albums, the ethereal subtlety or the more adventurous musical moments... and it surely would have fit in perfectly had it been included on the Make Yourself album... it seems to hint at something more and the unending creativity of this group of musicians... definitely a b-side worth checking out.
As I think you can see by my thoughts on each of these songs and even more so if you listen to the songs themselves in order, Incubus is not a band that sounds the same album to album. It's strange because although it's obvious that it is still the same band throughout, you can see them being creative and adventurous on each new album, even song to song, and think that is what keeps me coming back to them with new enthusiasm every so often.
Finding new creativity as an artist no matter what the media can be difficult and often the best new ideas come from getting out of your comfort zone and trying something that might fail completely, and better yet, might people turn away from what you're doing. Maybe it's just me, but listening back to my collection of Incubus albums, I without a doubt, see them as a band that is constantly pushing towards new creative realms and that makes them one of the more exciting modern rock bands around. I think these 6 (7) songs are a good representation of that fact... maybe you agree, maybe not, but it's worth checking out because if a band sounds the same album to album... well... it's a little boring... I'd rather a band be creative and fail than be safe and succeed.
If this is your first experience with Incubus as a band and some of the things I have mentioned have intrigued you, then by all means check out this band, but beware, I almost guarantee that song to song and album to album, you will be surprised by what you hear... there are some great moments throughout though.
If you're already a fan of the band, make sure to check out all of their albums as there is such diversity in their music it's amazing, and if you're not really a fan... well maybe this will have inspired you to take another look at them with a little more open mindedness... might just change your mind.
Don't forget to check out the Incubus homepage: http://www.enjoyincubus.com/
And myspace page: http://www.myspace.com/incubus
AND of course you can find their albums at Amazon or any of the other major music retailers around the web.