Review Summary: Make Yourself is the perfect blend of skilled songwriting and talented playing, with a theme both cohesive and compelling enough to have a sizable impact on your perspective if you give it enough chance.
Music is easily one of the most universal, potent, and all-encompassing forms of expression. Weaving poetry and perspective into synchronicity with the aesthetic elements of rhythm and sound, well crafted music is far more than entertainment for the ears. It’s a vessel for philosophy and emotion; those albums we deem “classic” become anthemic to even the most mundane intricacies of our lives. It is the backing track to every event and decision within the scope of our existence, and to those who are receptive enough, it can change lives.
Why, then, do we value objectivity as a cardinal virtue in reviews? If your perspective is a direct result of one’s history and decisions, how could any review be objective? If music’s appeal lies in the fact that it has an enigmatic, deeply emotional rapport with our subconscious as well as with our senses, why should objectivity be a standard? I feel that if an album’s impact on me is strong enough that I feel compelled to articulate it intimately, that’s a testament to the quality and intensity of the music, rather than a deficiency in my reviewing ability.
Therefore, this review shall contain very little of that objectivity foolishness.
Make Yourself is the third album released by the California-based alternative rock band Incubus. It was their breakthrough album in terms of mainstream popularity, one with memorable singles that still receive airplay nearly a decade following its release. It is also the album that has had the most profound impact in my life thus far.
Like most adolescents, when I began high school, I was internally immersed in self-deprecation, on a constant quest for some kind of acceptance. I played sports, though I didn’t really enjoy them. I filled my stereo with the most commercialized rap music and hailed it as the Mecca of music, if a bit disingenuously. This cycle continued until about halfway through my sophomore year, when I finally took the time to listen to this CD.
I’d heard it many times before; it was one of my mother’s personally favorites, and one she leaned heavily on during her divorce (again, a testament to its impact). But I’d never really paid much attention to it. This time, something was different. As soon as the first track began, the hard-rocking riffs, the melodic verses, every aesthetic aspect of the music caught me. It held my attention with an iron grip, allowing me to enjoy the album enough to listen enough for its ideas to ferment in my mind and come to fruition.
When it came down to it, it was the philosophy of the album, skillfully juxtaposed over the elegantly simplistic soundtrack of the music, that caught me. Make Yourself, in its entirety, is driven by this theme of aggressive individualism, of the idea of molding your identity as an act of rebellion against an oppressive society. For someone in my position, a teenager immured in the melodramatic mire of high school, the idea was intoxicating, and gradually I began doing things differently. I expanded my musical taste, and I started writing again. I became more eccentric, more artistic, and for the first time in many years, I was authentic and not ashamed about it.
Maybe it was an inevitable realization, and maybe my environment created the perfect storm to carry me onward in my emotional development. Maybe, to paraphrase lead singer Brandon Boyd‘s lyrics, the wind blew me in the right direction. But I feel I have to give credit where credit is due. Make Yourself acted as the catalyst to my own self-actualization.
Anecdotes aside, Make Yourself has all the hallmarks of what we consider classic music. Its sound is accessible, but not generic. Its writing is a varied tapestry of imagery and dialogue; it’s always poetic, but never too ambiguous. It’s well executed, retaining the soul and the passion of the music, but with a well balanced and professional sound. Most importantly, it’s a cohesive, broad work of art that maintains a recurring theme without becoming redundant. Unlike many albums of its kind, tracks never seem to fade together; they all form their own eclectic identity, while fitting together like elaborate puzzle pieces.
Make Yourself also marks the first real emergence of a unique sound. Their first album, Fungus Amongus, while entertaining in its own right, was an imitation of their influence. They covered more ground on S.C.I.E.N.C.E, but it was still very much a product of its Primus and RHCP roots. Make Yourself also exhibits the band’s roots in funk and straightforward rock, but blends them effortlessly with hip hop, jazz, and even psychedelic music to create a unique consistency in its sound. From the turntable battle on Battlestar Scralatchtica to the African backbeat to Clean, Incubus demonstrates its versatility as a band throughout the album.
Anyone who has seen Incubus live can testify to the musical proficiency of its members. Brandon Boyd’s voice retains the rich tone and precise tune on stage. Michael Einziger handles his guitar with the panache of a swashbuckler, and Dirk Lance’s basslines are both driving and funky. Jose Pasilla’s drumming has both technicality and feeling, the kind of soul that no amount of drum lessons can teach, and DJ Kilmore accentuates the music with his expert manipulation of sound.
But despite the dearth of musical talent, Incubus doesn’t give in to the temptation of overindulgence. The only legitimate solo is in the form of a turntable battle between Kilmore and Jurassic 5, and the album is not cluttered by excessive show-off sections characteristic of virtuoso musicians. Proving they’ve matured musically since S.C.I.E.N.C.E, they’ve tempered their flashy licks and sardonic lyrics with subtlety. Even when one instrument is in the foreground, it’s never overemphasized; it’s only one layer of an elaborately written yet flawlessly simplistic construct.
Even next to the accomplished instrumental aspect of the music, Boyd’s songwriting abilities stand out as phenomenal. His voice is easily recognized and his style distinct, but his delivery is varied. In the ballad “I Miss You”, his breathy crooning accentuates the nostalgic theme, while his syncopated rap style in “When It Comes” and “Pardon Me” is perfectly in sync with the rhythm section. His lyrics are direct and clear with a tasteful embellishment of rhyme and imagery.
Perhaps most impressively, each song seems to epitomize an emotional still life sketched from situations that are both perplexing and pervasive in our culture, from the pressures of conformity to starry-eyed infatuation. Each has its own clearly defined perspective and insight, but they are all tied together by the common thread of uncompromising individualism, of expression unfiltered by inhibition and fear. The songs, while they are all more than capable of standing on their own, piece together to form a truly cohesive landscape of self-empowerment, confidence, and vulnerability.
Make Yourself transcends the homogenized fluff of mainstream music without sacrificing accessibility. It pounds its philosophy and its positive attitude towards life and love into your subconscious without slipping into self-indulgence. Its sound stands out and at the same time acts as an effective vessel for its commendable message of open-mindedness and subjectivity over conformity and boundaries. All these elements, impressive in their own regards, are pieced together precisely and tastefully to form a masterpiece of sound which calls unyieldingly for your undivided attention.
In “Nowhere Fast”, Boyd sings, “And there are times where I feel improved, improved upon the past. And there are times I can’t seem to understand at all, and yes, it sometimes seems as though I’m going nowhere really fucking fast.” Au contraire, Brandon.