Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Email Conversation - Incubus

Here is a newer idea that we want to make a more frequent post.  We will just bounce emails back and forth regarding a specific music topic.  It could be a genre, band, song, performer, performance, etc....

So for the first one we settled on a band that we are both a little unsure about how we feel about them (or at least at this point of their musical career) Incubus:

Original Message-----
From: neil
To: Frank
Sent: Fri, Feb 15, 2013 9:03 pm
So let’s get after it………INCUBUS
Just for reference purposes let’s get these facts out of the way:
Band Members:
- Brandon Boyd – lead vocals, rhythm guitar, percussion (1991-present)
- Mike Einziger – lead guitar, piano, backup vocals (‘91-present)
- Jose Pasillas – drums (’91-present)
- Chris Kilmore – turntables, keyboards (’98-present)
- Bed Kenney – bass guitar, backing vocals (’03-present)
Former Members
- Alex Katunich – bass guitar (’91-’03)
- Gavin Koppell – turntables, keyboards (’95-’98)
- Fungus Amongus/Enjoy Incubus (1995)
- S.C.I.E.N.C.E (1997)
- Make Yourself (1999)
- Morning View (2001)
- A Crow Left of the Murder (2004)
- Light Grenades (2006)
- If Not Now When (2011)
Before I start I have to admit I have not heard one second of If Not Now When so everything said may have to be with a grain of salt. My current relationship with Incubus is strained at best. I think they are a very talent group but as their sound progressed over the years it moved in a direction that I was not total ‘in to’. So I stopped listening. But let’s start at the beginning.
I didn’t know them until SCIENCE but that is far and away my favorite album of theirs. The title fits the concept of the album, a giant science project. They took songs and blended styles rock, metal, punk, funk, blues, techno, electronic, and so on. Their first album(s) you can tell they had this funk/blues/rock influence but didn’t quite know what they were. There are some good songs (still a fan of take me to your leader) but you can tell that in the development of SCIENCE they found their groove. Just think about the back to back song combination of ‘Certain Shade of Green’, ‘Favorite Things’, ‘Summer Romance’ & ‘Nebula’. The intent and combination of styles is vastly different. From strait in your face rock, to rock/electro, to blues/funk, to electro/techno/god knows what. The album as a whole was brilliantly done and dominated my cd player senior year of high school.
Then came Make Yourself. Probably their most know, most popular album. The concept was a little different but you still got that science influence. However, it was more mainstream, more radio rock…..and it was good! Songs like Drive and Pardon Me put them on the popular map. And yet again, this is a fantastic album and I really enjoyed it.
But this is where I think they hit a fork in the road….do they stick to their roots or do they venture down the alternative, pop rock path? Morning View didn’t make the definitive statement but you could tell they took a step away from their funky mix of styles and made some more contemporary rock music. I think the album is above average but you could tell that even in their songs that were still influenced by their SCIENCE style they tried to incorporate more of a popular feel.
Then came Crows….and the wheels came tracks in ’09. And this is where the Incubus train came to a halt. I think the direction of the band has changed, not in a bad way, just not in the selfish way that I wanted.
So the question is, do they ever come back from this or do they just floatoff. They tried to take their old style and bake it into their pop sound. And I didn’t like it. I actually do not know many people that did.
To be honest that was it for me. It was a slow decline from that point forward. Their first three albums were good and all released in a small window of time (3 albums in 5 years). The next three took 8 and I was less and less excited for each. They went on a hiatus and released a best of album with some average bside in the shallow pool of mediocrity for as long as they can hold on? 

Response Message-----
From: Frank
To: neil
Sent: Mon, Feb 25, 2013 10:24 pm
You covered a lot of the background, and I would essentially just echo your sentiments about their early days and S.C.I.E.N.C.E. (it is awesome, probably objectively their best, solid front to back), so let me pick it up at Make Yourself. I would agree that there were a few songs on here that veered a bit more towards the mainstream, but I don't see it as a large-scale direction change, and I think this might be my favorite record of theirs. Boyd's lyrics were always a highlight for me (at least early on), and I think his finest work was on Make Yourself--the title track, Consequence, and most of all The Warmth, which would be in the running for my favorite Incubus song period. And though the wild genre changes are lacking, I think the record is still dynamic while tightening the songwriting and not forgetting to rock--there is no song that features the full-scale aggression that made Vitamin or Certain Shade of Green so vital, but I do think the songs are more consistent throughout (whereas some songs on S.C.I.E.N.C.E., like Redefine or Nebula, are remarkable primarily for the distinct parts: the bass solo and the chorus, respectively). Now Make Yourself definitely raised some warning flags for me, in the form of Stellar and Drive, which I detest and skip every time I listen to it. But that wasn't enough to send to make me doubt the band just yet.
And neither was Morning View, despite the greaterprevalence of eminently skippable tracks. Another element of Incubus that deserves mentioning is their ability to write absolute standout tracks. This cemented Make Yourself and even partially saves A Crow...for me, but nowhere was it more necessary than Morning View. For every Blood on the Ground and Wish You Were Here, there is thankfully an 11 a.m., Warning, or Are You In? to rescue it. But outside of Circles, there is really no hard rock to be had here, so I would say this is the record that signaled to me that the Incubus we knew was about to disappear. Besides their stand out tracks, Incubus also was a band that a lot of different people listened to, so their shows would be events where a big crew could gather (as opposed to my default mode of attending metal shows by myself or maybe 1 or 2 other similarly-minded weirdos). I think this kept me in their corner and bought more leeway than maybe they deserved.

A Crow...'s first half is actually pretty worthwhile in my eyes, particularly Talk Show on Mute and Sick Sad World. But the last half is borderline unlistenable, and finally I couldn't hang on anymore and bailed, and also stopped going to their shows.
Last time I saw them was the final time Lollapalooza toured around, and I think I spent most of time drunkely heckling them until they played something from Science. I don't think I've heard anything from their last two, so I'm hesitant to judge, but I also haven't talked to anyone or read anything that suggests I'm missing out on much. To answer your question, I doubt they can ever get back to what they were--that band is dead (indeed, the last thing I saw from them was a cover of I Can See for Miles on a Who tribute show, and, um, it was not...good...at all). But I also half-bailed on the Deftones, and they have just come screaming back with the last two, so I won't write the obituary yet. Maybe we should pick up Light Grenades and see if anything's worthwhile as part of this exercise?
I'll leave the next topic to you, though might I suggest best song as the next topic of conversation? Maybe split between aggressive and slower?

1 comment:

  1. Hm, I must say I am surprised that you are partial to the first 1/2 of crows. I guess I can see the appeal it just never really spoke to me.

    As for best songs I struggled between three all for similar reasons so I'm just gonna give you all three (1) Redefine, (2) Make Yourself & (3) Summer Romance.

    Make Yourself and Redefine are lyrically my two favorite songs and both fall into the aggressive category. While I think the message and deliver of that message is better in Make Yourself and am partial to Redefine because it has the SCIENCE incubus elements that I love while still delivering lyrically.

    Summer Romance is my favorite slower song and one of the main reasons is that it encompasses the album's purpose by throwing in the entire kitchen sing of musical genres. Additionally, that is something that can be much easier to do for an aggressive song so to be able to incorporate all that they do into summer romance is brilliant.

    Not to throw another question out there to supersede the song question because I want to know your favorites but to you think they were forced into becoming the band they are today or that was their natural progression? Was it a 'tail wagging the dog' situation where their commercial popularity pushed them in this direction? It is truly amazing to think that they are the same group that wrote Enjoy Incubus and Science.