ALBUM REVIEW: Umphrey's McGee It's Not Us
Words by Blake Barit Direct Attention
Since my first Umphrey’s McGee show, I was blown away by their genre bending sound and innovative approach to live performances. From hair metal runs, to funk grooves, straight forward rocking, psychedelia, sentimental ballads, aggro progressive transitions, even a bit of comedy, working cohesively to form a sound that would keep me coming back for the next 12 years. With this new album, we find an older band a bit wiser in their years, ready to push their craft even further and rock like nothing has changed.
Recorded in Chicago, it’s not us is the band’s eleventh studio effort. The album is seething with everything fans have come to know and love. Jake Cinninger on guitar, and Ryan Stasik on bass, bring power to a hard rock-driven album, layered with Brendan Bayliss’ introspective lyricism. Centered predominately on their classic progressive rock sound, the album maintains an eclectic nature, venturing into funk, electronica, and folk.
Right off the bat, we get our first taste of a more polished Umphrey’s with hard-pop banger, “The Silent Type.” The single was also the first song the band played in 2018. Coming in hot, right after "Auld Lang Syne" on New Year’s, the track leads with the bravado of a front runner. Exuding an aura of a night out in a European city, during a blizzard, complete with bicycle races, snow ball fights, and robots. Always robots. Getting a taste of what’s to come, we’re out of the gates and hugging the rail… locked in.
Dark rock Jake ripper "Looks" is next. Stasik lends a saucy bass line to Cinninger, who takes advantage to create some very intriguing and creative lead lines. One thing I love about Umphrey’s is their dark hard rock themes, and this album is dripping with them. "Looks" is the first cut of a number on it’s not us to venture into the nether world.
“Whistle Kids” is one of the best examples of a mature band, and a grown up Brendan Bayliss, speaking to the changed situations of their lives. The touching tongue-in-cheek funk rocker possesses the loving comedy which rings true with fans that still have to raise their kids after a Friday night with the band.
The contemplative ballad "Half Delayed" comes next. This tune leaves Bayliss ruminating on life’s difficulties and learning to accept change. The song starts on the slow side but pleasantly builds to a strong conclusion. Every album has that song that squeeked in, destined to be the placeholder that thickens out the album runtime. Congrats "Half Delayed," you made it.
"Maybe Someday" is a distance runner’s dream, ripped from the opening credits sequence of some synthed-out late 80’s sitcom. Pop this on your playlist and you’re golden. A strong starting groove drives into a blissed out bridge, capped off by an industrial foot-stomping finale, complete with signature shredding from Cinninger. There’s a lot of potential here for drawn out improv during live performances.
“Remind Me” doesn’t take shit, asserting itself as one of the stand out tracks on the album. Starting out as a Prince-esque jazz number, the track crashes head-on into a hard-rock, double-bass head-banging, rage inducing incantation of The Prince of Darkness. Shit. Gets. Real. Are those strings in the background? A choir mayhaps? Sounds like they could be the demonic shrills of the foot beasts of Satan. It scared me. I loved it.
After the carnage, respite comes in the form of “You & You Alone.” Bayliss’ beautiful folk ballad written to his wife is an ode to the frustrations of raising children, finding beauty in it, and all the while continuing down your road together. This is a great example of Umphrey’s being very charming and elegant. “Bullhead City” is a wonderful Jake ballad off of their 2004 release Anchor Drops that stands in a comparable light with Bayliss’ number.
“Forks” soars into the sky on the back of Cinninger’s raising and climbing guitar lines. Eagles pull this song up on their Zunes right before taking flight in search of a lowly field mouse. The blissed out Umphrey’s sound of songs like “Hajimemishite” are strong in this one, certain to elevate the proceedings during a live show.
“Speak Up” will be familiar to Umphrey’s fans albeit with added lyrics. The old jam is giving life to the new take, taken even higher by Joshua Redman. Redman, who has become a fixture at Umphrey’s shows over the years, lends his soulful prowess on the woodwind to thicken up this tasty cut.
“Piranahs” comes in as a smooth rocking number that laments the speed of a rock star’s life and the tiring schedule that brings a middle-aged family man down. The song’s groove is nicely accented by the stylings of Joel Cummins, while Kris Myers is solid in the pocket to keep the groove air-tight. The schmaltz many of these songs possess are countered nicely by the harder nature of the music that accompanies them.
“Dark Brush” ends the album magnificently. The NIN-esque ripper showcases Cinninger both lyrically and instrumentally, and serves as a capper to an album from an older more introspective band that still knows how to rip and have fun.
Their best effort since 2009’s Mantis, Umphrey’s brings us a powerful set of songs that posses the characteristics needed to enter the arena of live Umphrey’s, as well as give us all an honest look into the growing lives of the rock stars we love. The possibilities seem endless as it’s not us opens up brand new territory for fans to know and love. See you on tour.