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Umphrey's McGee - It's Not Us CD (album) cover

IT'S NOT US

Umphrey's McGee

Crossover Prog


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kev rowland
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Reviewer
4 stars It's been quite a while since I last came across Umphrey's Mcgee, having reviewed their third ('Anchor Drops', 2004) and fourth ('Safety In Numbers', 2006) releases, and now here they are back with their eleventh studio album. They have certainly pushed the boat out with this one, as in addition to the standard download, CD, and vinyl, this release offers the most robust deluxe package the band has ever created. Housed inside a leather bound book, the deluxe includes double 180 gram (with an Augmented Reality component), CD, download, bonus 7' EP featuring two unreleased tracks, a 72 page colour coffee table book and more. No, I didn't get sent that, would have been nice though'

I seem to recall that the band originally came out of the jamband scene, mixing blues with country, folk, bluegrass, prog, rock etc. and then taking it out on the road. That they continue to hit the road is evident in not only that they have played more than 2,200 gigs, but the way that the guys all innately know what everyone is doing, even before it takes place. This is music that is so tight that it isn't possible to find any point when the five of them aren't all locked together as one unit. The best way to describe this music is by saying that it is incredibly accessible, and then leaving it to the listener to try and work out what genre any song, or rather any particular piece of a song, actually belongs in. They truly belong to crossover progressive rock in its very truest sense, as they bring in pop sensibilities into just about every style of music going and then making it very much their own. There are some good rules to try to stick to in life, such as not wasting time and money on drinking bad wine and not spending time listening to bad music. That could never be the case with these guys, as the quality is off the charts. Highly recommended.

Report this review (#1907094)
Posted Wednesday, March 21, 2018 | Review Permalink
3 stars I won't be the first to point out that something gets lost when this superlative live act enters the recording studio. The impressive synergy of the players gets transmuted into something polished but undistinguished. Songs that have been refined over years of performances are drained of their intrinsic appeal. Once again with "It's Not Us," the result is a more than listenable stretch of music that invites less passion in the listener than one would expect.

"It's Not Us" balances between, on the one hand, catchy rock/pop with a funky edge and, on the other, go-through- the-motions prog. Of course it's the proggy side that interests me the most, but the band really hits the sweet spot when they enter hybrid territory that's harder to define.

There are three decidedly proggy songs that take up twenty minutes of the album. Two of them are situated next to each other a third of the way through the album on tracks 5 & 6. "Maybe Someday" traipses pleasantly and expertly through odd meter sections and spacy but thoroughly composed textural passages. It's a very appealing track.

The succeeding "Remind Me," begins as a run-of-the-mill funky jam band number, but it transitions unexpectedly into a hectic dark prog instrumental, reminiscent simultaneously of IQ and of a high-tempo Porcupine Tree/Wilson jam. This section is red meat for proggers and will have many banging their heads even thought it panders a little too hard.

Also of note to proggers is the album-ending "Dark Brush." It sounds like its title, with a distorted vocal verse built on a trudging seven-four and dissonant riffing. The chorus is a grandiose power chord affair with Tom Sawyer filter sweep bass synth that could cause goosebumps. It's a very impressive sound.

Conversely, there are a few conventional pop/rock songs that aim for ear-worm status. I suppose this band doesn't need a hit single to continue its moderate success, but it wouldn't hurt. "The Silent Type," "Whistle Kids" and the domestic bliss ballad "You and You Alone" are reasonable attempts at no-nonsense pop. I couldn't judge whether they succeed on that basis. None of them infected me to want to hear them again and again.

Then there are the tracks that are more difficult to pigeonhole, such as "Looks," "Half Delayed," "Piranhas" and "Forks." Out of these, "Forks" stands out, an exuberant mood lifter with somewhat Jon Anderson-esque lyrics. It's the one place on the album where the band most effectively captures live show energy, while still providing the idealized sculpting expected on a studio album. In my view, "Forks" is the most unqualified success on "It's Not Us."

This is a very talented band with a twenty-year track record. Anybody expecting a magnum opus will be disappointed, but taken as a sampler of what they do, there's a lot to enjoy on "It's Not Us." Still, the album title is true in the sense that the true Umphrey's McGee can only really be witnessed when they're capturing the musical moment in a concert venue.

Report this review (#1910655)
Posted Saturday, March 31, 2018 | Review Permalink

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