Category: editorial

it’s you Album Review

Umphrey’s has been a busy band. Within the past five months, the group has released a fantastic album, played over thirty-three shows, released a remix disc, reanimated numerous side projects. Now, Umphrey’s adds to that amazing production rate with an unanticipated full-length disc, full of eccentric new tracks and studio iterations of fan favorites, ensuring that Umphrey’s zealots will certainly find something that will delight them in 2018. “it’s you” is the second solid record to come from this recording session and, similar to its predecessor, not every track is instantaneously accessible. Umphreaks will need to revisit some tracks repeatedly to make their own assessment, becoming further smitten with each listen. Where “it’s not us” focused on juxtaposition throughout every element, “it’s you” feels more like a giant soup of songs that turned out as tasty (or better) as its glossy predecessor.

Triangle Tear, with its complex opening, with its interlocking guitar and keys riffs, followed arena rock style build, starts the album off with tons of energy. Unfortunately, the over-polished, heavily layered vocals do not serve the run-on cryptic lyrics well, neither does their sing-song delivery and they are lace themselves extensively throughout the verses. When stripped from the glitz, Triangle Tear has a chance to really shine and the song is redeemed through its instrumental offerings like the opening riff, short manic guitar solos, and a breakout cessation segment which acts as a placeholder for prospective improvisational drop-ins in a live environment.

(Editor’s Note: Since we penned this review, Triangle Tear was played live at Summercamp Music Festival…and it sounds much better live.)

What We Could Get is a crunchy, Jake Cinninger led tune that is interjected by haunting vocals, a wailing guitar riff and a passionate, engaging chorus. A fuzzy, subtle acoustic guitar creates a satisfying depth to flesh out the resonant verses as concise riffs provide breaks between chorus cycles.

The following track, Push & Pull, highlights Brendan Bayliss’ trademark enigmatic lyrics which feel as if they could apply to a myriad of situations. The minstrel’s ability to say something profound without being over specific has been a hallmark of the band since inception, and here the words triumph impeccably. There are no snarling solos or resounding drums. Instead, vocals are the main feature and the end of the tune is accentuated by a Beatles-esque harmonized section that would make Paul McCartney grin.

One of the strongest tracks on the album is In the Black. Though the band has only taken the tune out of the garage for tune-ups a few times since the song, the jam has drummed up considerable demand among the fanbase. It was only a matter of time before this refined monster made its way back onstage. Instructions as to paying one’s debts and getting a word in are embedded in complex, orchestrated verses that jerkily hop to the chorus. Towards the end of the track, the hollow call of ‘Maybe it’s me and I’m misunderstanding you, lately it feels like I’m never getting through’ only gains meaning with each restatement until its powerful cry breaks into an monumental solo.

There is beauty in simplicity and Xmas at Wartime embodies this, especially when said clarity is surrounded by the complex cavalcade that is an Umphrey’s album. Lyricless quiet space can often be an unheralded respite and Xmas at Wartime exemplifies that tranquility. The keys interlace exquisitely with the acoustic guitars, reminding us of snowflakes in December and inspiring unalloyed emotion for the listener.

Seasons has a mesmerizing and jarring effect, forming a track that gleefully skips between main sections abruptly. Unfortunately, the hallway vocal effects detract slightly from the delivery of Bayliss’ thoughtfully crafted lyrics. This is easy to forgive as other elements like background guitars, interweaved piano and moogy key solos, make this a highlight among the previously unheard tunes. Light touches from the group’s special percussionist Andy Farag are scattered throughout the song, crescendoing to powerful, thunderous hand drum segment that swells the fervor within your spirit. Keyboardist Joel Cummin’s solitary trail off at the end adds a stupendous emotional brush stroke to a fantastically executed track, one we will hopefully hear many iterations of for years to come.

The heaviest track on “its you” is easily Netherand it shares the most in common with some of the bolder “it’s not us” tracks, blending tonal splashes from Dark Brush and Looks into a ritual that may cause you to redig through the closet for your Blood Altar. A gently distorted palm muted riff is quickly intermixed with whirling spiral keys. There is so much to love about this song. From the irrepressible lyrics and stilted build to the minute details, like a twinkling layer of Joel’s piano buried deep within the mix, or Kris Meyer’s snap drums and swift high-hat play, make for a delightfully produced tune that might be the best on the disc.

Like a drunken round hollered among arm in arm buddies across a crowded tavern, Hanging Chads makes for a amusing reprieve with a happy hate song. This track will be a ton of fun live one day, you can nearly imagine a room full of Umphreaks shouting the explicit lyrics in unison.

Veteran Attachments was born for the studio. Though the song debuted in late 2015 and has seen fifty-two plays since premier, in a live environment it often becomes muddled and fails to hold together sonically or to elevate into a meaningful jam. Not so on “it’s you”. The guitars are extremely well captured. The harmonies are clear and all falsettos pulled flawlessly. The solo is deliberate, skillful and sprightly. Studio clarity allows this track to truly shine as one of the few tracks in Umphrey’s catalogue that is better in the booth.

Fan favorite Upward is the strongest song lyrically on the disc.  This track has been a fan favorite since its inception in 2014,  when it had been paired with its inebriated falsetto brother Onwards at UMBowl 5, and it’s easy to see why. The first minute of Upward’s studio iteration is a bit different than its live antecedents: Bayliss, a lone acoustic guitar and a hanging electric high note punctuating the space. It nearly changes the entire mood of the song, momentarily lending a stripped bare take to a jam that’s always seemed so gloriously grandiose. The new arrangement can be a bit jarring for those who have become so familiar with the standard Upward’s intro, however, that familiarity is restored as the percussion comes crashing in before the second verse. The studio version does justice to a track already cemented into heavy rotation, sitting at a seat among the classics.

 

It is inevitable and somewhat unfair to “it’s you” that it always will be compared with“it’s not us” – the naming convention and time of release basically begs us to, though they are not audibly companion pieces. Without that contrast they stand on their own as separate, expertly crafted compositions. Many of the newest tunes are not as immediately accessible as anything from “it’s not us“, the band’s latest release probably shouldn’t be a novice’s first listen. That said, song-for-song, “it’s you” is more enjoyable than its precursor and seasoned Umphreaks will be gratified to find this disc has shed the poppy sheen that glossed the band’s previous work.

It is prototypical Umphrey’s to craft a secret, intricate and epic surprise like their most recent album.  The backend of the album is stacked with contenders for masterpiece jam vehicle mainstays and we can only hope that the songs on “it’s you” receive more live attention than their most recent forerunners. While Umphrey’s has yet to recreate a studio chef-dœuvre on par with their 2009 opus “Mantis”, it is not for lack of trying, and with “it’s you” their beginning to breach that level once more. The best part of this album is that it ignites excitement and optimism in the heart of any devotee. This is obviously not a band waning, relegating themselves to a handful of bustout-less shows in select easy sell out cities. Instead, this is a band who will not rest until they get the chance to give us their best, who is dedicated to the continued crafting distinct, unpredictable and challenging music in both live and studio environments. We happily intend to listen to every note of it.

Top Tracks:
Nether
Seasons
In the Black
Upward

 

It’s Not Us Review

It’s Not Us, the most recent release from Umphrey’s McGee, is an extremely diverse and well crafted disc, showcasing some of Umphrey’s best studio work in quite some time. While the band is unquestionably at their best in a live environment, they have occasionally produced groundbreaking studio work, and while it’s unlikely It’s Not Us will be nominated for an Album of the Year at the Grammys, it will more than meet the expectations of thousands Umphreaks nationwide. The recording feigns hints of a more cohesive work, but overall lacks a motif or story to bind it track by track. Instead, this is an album about juxtaposition where contrast is a constant from song to song or even verse to verse, lyrically and musically. There is a lot to discover buried in each layer and fans will find themselves falling further in love on each relisten. The album succeeds to entertain, enlighten and inspire on many levels, forming what is easily Umphrey’s strongest release since Mantis.

The album is energetic from its outset. Leadoff track The Silent Type has morphed considerably from the fan favorite lyrical Jimmy Stewarts formerly known as “Cigarette Cables”. The fuzz distortion has a Miami Virtue theme semi-grubby sound that feels like driving down the Florida shoreline. The distortion on the vocals here is appropriate and works well with Brendan’s voice. The layered guitars add considerable depth to the new arrangement, helping the track escape beyond it’s poppy shell.

As with many tracks on It’s Not Us, Looks sounds best through headphones where all the nuances can be distinctly heard. A lumbering 80s goth industrial sound is alive and well within this song. The rhythm formed by bassist Ryan Stasik’s prominent plucking offers a funk verse vibe that contrasts heavily with the open, airy chorus. The centerpiece of the track is an out of tune King Crimsonesque solo that adds appropriate spice to a cumbersome number.

Whistle Kids sheds off the grimy glam for a laid back rock vibe and some blues licks. The song, written about recovering from a hangover while dealing with children, is wittily composed and the vocals are well harmonized. The simple, stripped down track stands out nicely in comparison to all the layered and heavy on this disc.

Half Delayed bears reflections of The Smashing Pumpkins Drown. Built of shoegazey verses eventually bear way to a distorted crescendo where dual guitars drive and ascend in an energetic fuzz flight that promises to be a improvisation launchpad in the future.

Maybe Someday is the most instrumentally complex song on the album. A frankenstein of many hodgepodge segments glued together, the band pans genres from rock to jazz in this opus. The transitions between sections are fairly smooth and each portion of the song is unique and captivating in its own way. The stratum of sound from percussionist Andy Farag up through Brendan’s vocals is deep and fascinating. Make sure to listen to this track through headphones.

Remaining fairly true to it’s live incarnations, Remind Me embodies the rest of the album as a track perfectly divided between smooth and heavy. The shoulder shuffling, slinky guitar of the first segment accompanies well formed verses. The heavy section is formed by Joel’s haunting mellotron keys, insane finger flicking guitar solos and double bass drum kick pedal mania.

You and You Alone is simply gorgeous. The strongest track on the album lyrically, Brendan recites pure poetry in a love ballad that reflects on marriage and parenthood at once. Soft key chords mix seamlessly with quiet guitar licks, swelling sentiment until listeners are overcome. While there are many songs of sorrow among the Umphrey’s catalog, this dabble into lovesongs is exemplary and will make even the most stoic face shed a tear.

We have heard Forks a couple times live before. The album incarnation is very similar but heavily plays up the 80s elements in the best way. The track is peppered with symphonic sparkles and moves at a brisk, uplifting pace. A sense of exuberance runs throughout some of Brendan’s most cryptic lyrics on the album, music one could run marathons listening to.

Speak Up debuted live in 2015 but didn’t start to become interesting until the band opened it for expansive improvisation.  The studio rendition is playful and sprightly, relying heavily on keyboardist Joel Cummin’s fat organ notes, escorted by special guest saxophonist Joshua Redman.

The album’s low point is near the end. Piranhas has failed to develop into an interesting tune since its debut in 2014. A fairly straightforward cut from live to studio, the song’s linear layout and lack of variance cannot hold a candle to the surrounding tracks. The pop flavor and conventional structure creates a standard song. Previous efforts with a similar sequential build, like The Linear or Conduit, have been far more successful songs of a similar vein.

Listen to Dark Brush three times before you come to a conclusion about it. A driving distorted riff and breathy, haunting vocals make this tour de force heavy enough to be the new Wizards Burial Ground, and that will cause a decisive rift among listeners. Nothing this bold within the “jamband” community should be without debate. Dark Brush successfully takes the best elements of predecessors like Hindsight and Little Gift from 2014’s Similar Skin, and combines them with enough adventure and terror to generate nightmare specter scenery for any listener. Muffled, distorted banter and the overwhelming howl of the chorus will have this seance somehow stuck in your head.

On It’s Not Us, the band does an excellent job taking calculated risks while continuously evoking classic Umphrey’s sounds and techniques. Rhythmically the band takes lots of chances with lyrical pacing and more often than not it pays off. The boys have shown a preference to turn towards the heavy on studio albums and, in this scenario, it is a resonating audioscape nicely sprinkled with subtle sonic shimmers. The infrequent stumbles in songs do not detract from the overall audio experience whatsoever. This is not an Umphrey’s Dance Party record, though one can hear obvious on-ramps into future rhythmic Jimmy Stewarts, especially in the segues between diametrically opposed sections. There is lots to uncover here and while not every track will make it into heavy rotation, the majority should become mainstays. Embracing divergence and contrast, It’s Not Us confirms that Umphrey’s occasionally is able to surprise in studio like they often do on stage.

Top Tracks:
Whistle Kids
Maybe Someday
Remind Me
You & You Alone
Dark Brush

Umphreak’s Anonymous has Kangfirmed UMLive Android drops tomorrow! – Umphreak’s Editorial: Bring UMLive to Android!

UPDATE 11/9/2015 IS IT HAPPENING?!

9:31pm Umphreak’s Anonymous has Kangfirmed UMLive Android drops tomorrow!

Original Article

By Joshua Colky In September of 2013, Umphrey’s McGee unleashed unto the world the UMLive Streaming Service and it was glorious to all who could behold it…those who were iPhone users. Truly, our initial review of the desktop service showed that it had its fair share of bugs and problems: the interface was clunky, the Queue feature did not work properly and was not intuitive, the social function did not work correctly.  A year and a half later, some of that has been improved on while other pieces remain exactly the same – you can now “Click the Rhino” to get back to the UMLive homepage, but the Social features and Queue have not been altered whatsoever since inception, but our major gripe has been, and still remains, that UMLive does not offer any support for Android whatsoever. No mobile web access through your browser, no native Android application in the Google Play store. Robot World remains in ruins! Yesterday we were reminded of this painful fact when we could not access the brand new Raw Stewage 2015 without either buying it outright off the site (for the cost of a subscription) or subscribe to UMLive’s streaming service, which we cannot access on our phones. It was quite the conundrum and that is one of the reasons we have no Raw Stewage review for you this morning. While Umphrey’s has almost always been in tune with the needs of their fanbase and simultaneously making smart business decisions, this one has us scratching our heads. Almost everything that Umphrey’s does is of the highest caliber, vetted to the point of maximum satisfaction, yet this tool has slipped through the cracks. For UMLive to be a success, it is going to need some reconfiguration, starting with offering Android support. umlive 2014 survey In response to our 2014 Year in Review Survey, over 200 people (35% of our respondents) indicated that they would sign up for the UMLive Streaming Service if the bugs were fixed and Android support made available. If those 200 people sign up for atleast a month of UMLive, we’d be looking at $2000 increased income for the service, and that’s just based on our respondents. Think of the investment for the future! Right now, half of the   United States smartphone population are Robot World members, with the other half (w)Appley Sprayberry (both fight for US dominance, but it’s close to neck and neck). Worldwide, Android far outpaces Apple in ownership. Many applications launch on iOS, the bugs are removed and the issues regarding fragmentation resolved, and then it is ported over to Android, and Android users are used to this.  18 months, however, is a very long period of time, and that’s over $180 they could have gotten from this user alone in the past year if they offered Android support. For anyone watching their Google Analytics, we know that mobile users make up a HUGE portion of the spectrum when it comes to online presence. This type of move would ALSO help prevent the rampant piracy of live shows that exists online currently, allowing more individuals to hear the offerings without stealing them from the band they love. This seems like it should be easy money, so what’s up?

According to this tweet from Joel, the cost to develop the app is currently unreasonable, but we just think they haven’t found an Umphreaky developer yet willing to take on the work for an affordable rate and to better the cause of his/her fellow man/woman. When UMLive launched in 2013, Android still had a terrible developer studio and we believe this may be why Android was initially overlooked. However, in the past two years, Androids development enviroment has been replaced with the magnificent Android Studio. Problems that arose due to fragmentation and security among Android devices have been minimized. We believe a rageface Umphreak could do this for the band at a reasonable rate and help out others in their community. Think of it: possibly hundreds of new Umphreaks being able to access the service that allows unlimited access to UM’s entire SBD catalog post 2005, all from the glory of any mobile device. To this effect, they could even reasonably go with a “Mobile Responsive” website (like the awesome mobile version of Allthings.Umphreys), allowing anyone to be able to use the tool from their mobile web browser with ease while stroking the fires of this addiction.  All we want is to be able to blast shows from Jam in The Dam 2006 through our mobile phones while cruising down the highway, is that so much to ask?

Until then, we’ll have to settle for purchasing Raw Stewage 2015, though we’d rather just give Umphrey’s the same amount of money monthly and romp around their large collection, reliving the moments we have shared together limitless. Lets hope the future has something brighter for the Robot owners out there.

Show Umphrey’s your interest in UMLive coming to Android by signing this petition – if the band is aware of the demand, they may feel the development costs are more worth the undertaking! Show them how it will be an investment in the future by telling them “I would sign up for UMLive if it comes to Android!” https://www.ipetitions.com/petition/bring-umlive-to-android