The Mantras' Jambands Ruined My Life
Words By Brad Yeakel (Opti Mystic Outlooks)
The Mantras, up and comers on the jam scene from North Carolina, have been on the outskirts of my radar for a few months. Recently, they've infiltrated my Facebook feed and popped up playing with some of my favorite musicians. So when the opportunity to review their new album arose, I was excited to finally hear what all the fuss was about. Especially once I learned it had been recorded in Jake Cinninger's (Umphrey's McGee) studio and featured the monster guitarist on two tracks. Jambands Ruined My Life began with a tune called "Before My Time." It was a technical rocker that jumped right in with the riff rock I'd expect from a project Cinninger guest produced. Through twists and turns, the tune set the pace, preparing me for progressive compositions, dynamic genre changes, and skilled musicianship.
"Kinetic Bump" dropped with synthesizer grooves, funk guitar layers, and energetic rhythm. The muted lead guitar line added a submerged dimension to the groove. After a slight break from guitar, both guitars emerged to play parallel lines. The solo which followed was nice, but the groovy breakdown provided a landing space with heavy potential. When the key solo hit, the potential became kinetic and the song earned its title. "House of Cards" started with a generic rock progression. The vocals had an element that reminded me of John Bell (Widespread Panic), but wasn't quite as gruff. The organ provided an element that gave the song more character, and ultimately there were some nice passages in the song. It wasn't my favorite track on the album, but it had more than I initially gave it credit for.
"Water Song" began with waves and a little guitar groove, the chorus and reverb effects created a nice ethereal tone. The vocals on this track were a little different. There were elements of it I liked, but there was also some aspect I found a little amateurish. The lyrics seemed a little better on this tune also. The jam was preceded by a nice progression that reminded me of the Grateful Dead before dropping into a little funky breakdown. When the guitar and clav teamed up to take the tune for a ride, I saw that this band had some serious psychedelia and the dance party to offer. "JBRML" was ethereal and allowed me to drift off thinking about other things... Porcupines, Monday night football, sleep, falconry, velvet Elvis paintings, and Kingsford charcoal. I know, that was weird, but once I realized my mind was wandering, I decided to see how far it would go. That's how far.
"After Awhile Crocodile" began with a heavy riff and snapped me out of the hypnotic spell. A meandering melody challenged my commitment, but I persevered and found myself in a bizarrely timed jam. As shades of Moe. surfaced, I began to wonder how much they tried to sound like their various influences given the album's title. From String Cheese to the Dead, Moe to Phish, Biscuits to Umphrey's, the band morphed sounds, often touching on grooves that reminded me of each. "Dr. Ssanasinod" reminded me of a song name from the Biscuit or Umphrey's catalogue. The song could have been a collaboration of those too bands to be honest. The guitar solo took more of a Government Mule tilt, but ultimately led back to a driving rock riff. The chorus' return had the feel of landing back where we began.
The album concluded with a tune called "Man You Rawk," and with a title like that, I was expecting something drastically different than what I got. What began as an interesting dance beat revealed itself to be based on a Middle Eastern sounding melody. The correlation with the song's sound and the band's name seemed apropos, and before long I was on a journey that reminded me of the cultural musical fusions found in String Cheese Incident favorites like "Rivertrance" and "Bollymunster." Overall, the album nodded to all those that came before them in one way or another, and proved to me that there was something to this Mantra thing. If they think jambands really ruined their lives, I have a hard time believing it.