Gruvis Malt - "...With The Spirit of a Traffic Jam"
When people talk about Incubus, the general consensus is that their first and last truly great album was S.C.I.E.N.C.E.
. That's an odd notion to maintain because it's not their oldest, most experimental stuff that would likely appeal to a group of fans that are elitist and liked Incubus before they totally sold out, man, but it also isn't their newest, catchiest material that enabled them to snag so many of their current fans (remember the song "Drive?"). It's odd to me that public opinion would locate the awkward middle child that is S.C.I.E.N.C.E.
as the best of Incubus' albums. Incubus started as a band that relied heavily on funk and jazz, but then moved into a mode that embraced nu-metal as a means of turning their use of interesting chord voicings into a more aggressive and catchy format, and lastly moved into a sort of stoner pop/hard-rock mode that has paid the bills so to speak. It's this unusual middle period of heavy, funky, jazzy, rockin music that is the most perplexing because a) it's the most progressive or forward-sounding music Incubus ever made and b) it's inexplicably successful despite the odd flavors being mixed together. This rambling brings me to Gruvis Malt, who take the general feel and flavor of S.C.I.E.N.C.E.
and amplify all of the jazz, r&b, funk, and progressive elements of the album. The result is an even odder fusion of eclectic tastes some have labeled as "futurock." The harmonies are jazzy, the time signatures and feels are off kilter, but the grooves can be incredibly heavy or aggressive.
I guess what I've been stabbing at here is that there are remnants of music we've heard before as listeners of classic songs in r&b and jazz, and there are fossils of Incubus' style, but overall, this album is incredibly weird and foreign to the unprepared ear. It's such a jutting, shocking mix that many of the songs are hit and miss. The intro to "Low Concept / High Maintenance" features an angular bass riff similar to one found in the music of Mr. Bungle or Nuclear Rabbit, which are two massively left of center bands. Then the song turns towards a rapped/sung verse with an upbeat, funky beat, and jazz chords. It sounds cool in the fact that it's startlingly new and really flavorful and esoteric, but in other ways, it's very non sequitir and incoherent. Gruvis Malt's combination can be listened to as both a success and failure, depending on the point of view. My opinion of it lies somewhere in between. I like the ideas they have and find myself bopping along to many different parts in each song, but I feel that no individual song succeeds on a holistic level, except maybe "Even the Scars Forget the Wounds." And, because none of the songs really succeed, neither does the album. To me it's the musical equivalent of Lucky Charms. There are tons of awesome, flavorful marshmellow chunks found in the cereal, but you have to pick them out of the fibrous, flavorless starchy stuff.
However, don't get me wrong, I love Lucky Charms. I don't let a bunch of non-sugary spots get in my way of enjoying the marshmellows. I typically eat out the whole cereal section first and have 7-10 awesome sugary bites at the end. So, I invite the listener to listen to this album more than a few times and figure out what parts they like and what parts they don't, and listen knowing that the process can be hot and cold, hit and miss. The main thing I love about this album, beyond the originality (which is also a huge con of the album), is the musicianship. The chord voicings are above and beyond what Incubus was messing with on S.C.I.E.N.C.E.
and are a display of really cool guitar and bass work. There is some expertise required to pull of the tempo and time changes found on the CD, and that at least is fun to experience. Also, I like this album at it's most sexy, sensual moments. I feel like the flavor of jazz naturally lends itself to being both upbeat and slow and demure. Most of this album is upbeat and crazy, which is fun, but nothing is more satisfying than the moments when the music is sultry and slow, which is why I like "Even the Scars Forget the Wounds." I feel like it's predominantly slower paced and smoother, and the more aggressive parts don't detract from the lighter parts, instead they add variety to the overall feel of the song, thus allowing the lighter parts to be even more enticing.
Overall, while I like a lot of this album, I can't listen to it for more than 30 minutes or so. I dig a lot of the trickier musical twists and turns, but the overlying flavor is a huge turnoff. I guess they didn't quite get the fine balance Incubus did on S.C.I.E.N.C.E.
but this is definitely an admirable display of genre blending and instrumental proficiency, despite its flaws.