Review Summary: An album made from the most potent creative juices
311 may not have been completely mainstream accessible around the release of “Grassroots” but they were at least partially there, and simultaneously, they impressed all other music speculators. The Omaha boys had been pushing their material through releases that carried little to no promotion, and as a result they only achieved critical acclaim with hardly any commercial success.
In a sense, this is the perfect setting for an album like “Grassroots” the sophomore studio release from this ever-faithful alt. rock act. They have held the same signature sound as well as the same five founding members for over 20 years. This is a record the band made in their 20’s, after they began to see commercial failure and narrowly escaped a fire on their tour bus that destroyed all of their equipment. Their persistence is remarkable.
“Grassroots” tweaks just about every principle stapled in “Music.” The bloody-raw riffs that painted their debut were constructed on single tracks of bass, guitar, drums, and vocals all performed at once. This method is used on “Grassroots” in moderation, taking presence mainly on the hard-hitters and leaving the remaining space for more filtered material to be presented. On top of that, the use of psychedelic tones and trancey effects is increased and sees great success in sync with the pre-existing tendencies of their style.
“Homebrew” starts the record with a low guitar groove that makes use of an octave pedal. Its thick and harmonic sound teamed with 311’s usual rap-rock escapades supercharges their overall delivery.
The texture of the melody generated by guitarist Tim Mahoney and bassist Pnut practically paints a picture along with every song on the album. They use a variety of distortions, pedals, and tones to keep things interesting.
On “Taiyed,” one of the shortest but sweetest 311 tracks, Mahoney covers every base, starting with clean bluesy jamming and transforming into elegant electric soloing for the outro. SA Martinez recites lyrics that soar above comprehension, mentioning himself as a “Ghostly Shark developing like a photograph slowly in the dark..” and Pnut grinds a constant funk-fueled bass-line. The combination of these elements makes for a cut that almost comes to life with its many textural attributes.
This is the name of the game for the whole record, as far as improvement goes, and it succeeds with everlasting quality because it works so well with 311’s formula. “Nutsymptom” proceeds to roll on impossibly simple riffage, but Martinez and Hexums’ delivery through a muffled speaker adds vibe, and Pnut’s eyebrow-raising second half turns the song into one of the album’s most memorable.
The dominant 311 style is still in full force; songs like “Applied Science,” “Salsa,” “Offbeat bare-ass,” etc. will keep you jumping and head-bobbing for months. The true pearls however, are the outwardly artistic tracks. “8:16 a.m.” is a mid-tempo tune with soothing guitar-riffs that fuse reggae, blues, and jazz into a melody perfectly fit for a tropical setting. The title track bounces back and forth between their grade A rap-rock and a colorful reggae chorus. “Six” jams hard and, at the same time, showcases truly intricate songwriting.
Last but not least, “1,2,3,” is a stunningly beautiful cut that rides an island groove with faint shoe-gaze rings filling out the background. Both Martinez and Hexum provide warm vocals that match the blanket of guitar and bass on the chorus to spine-chilling proportions. Hexum’s lyrics are heartfelt in defending the song’s character “They wanna bug you, but we won’t let em today..” “Run up the hill, do as you do…” sets a scene of the band on an ocean cliff viewing the song’s subject wandering around the island landscape.
In closing, any prospective listener that has heard 311’s self-titled album, or “Music,” or both, will find this record’s sound perfectly fit between those two. The self-titled release takes a mainstream turn, while “Music” couldn’t be further from commercial approval, but “Grassroots” is a perfect mix. It falls into a place in the spectrum of accessibility that deserves some of the highest respect; a spot where you receive the praise of higher powers, but not the passage of the general public. 311’s inventiveness and creativity demonstrated on this album proves the authenticity of their passion for songwriting. “Grassroots” has all of the traditional elements of 311’s signature sound (Which are essentially the only perks composing “Music”) plus the appropriate incorporation of trippy undertones and psychedelic textures, which combined, turns this record into an unforgettable classic.