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ISSUE 117 VOL 11 PUBLISHED 2/27/2004

Band's true sound still 'incubating'

By Byron Vierk
Staff Writer

Friday, February 27, 2004

Brandon Boyd, lead singer of the modern rock band Incubus, compared the group's newest record "A Crow Left of the Murder" to the group's earlier records they had recorded, stating, "It's like petting a cat in the right direction. Other records have been a bit more laborious. This one has been pure joy. Incubus certainly does sound like a band that's having a lot of fun on "A Crow Left of the Murder," the band's fifth album and their first with new bassist Ben Kenney, formerly of the Roots. In many ways, however, Incubus' new album is two steps forward and one step back.

Incubus' previous two albums, the breakthrough "Yourself" and the multi-platinum "Morning View," both followed the same formula of solid guitar melodies backed by the powerful and nearly operatic singing of Boyd. The same elements are present in "A Crow Left of the Murder," but come through in vastly different forms. Boyd's voice has now taken a truly leading role, overpowering every other sound on the album. That's not to say that the musical side of Incubus has taken any sort of turn for the worse -- Mike Einziger's unique and distinctive guitar work still keeps many of the more artistic moments of the album moving right along, while Kenney adds some much needed funk to many of the tracks. The real weakness of the album is its decidedly new themes and bold new direction. Incubus was beginning to fall into a rut, and it's obvious that members of the band sensed this. To put it mildly, though this re-vamped group isn't the same Incubus that made "Morning View" three years ago. Gone are the Malibu sunset riffs and the easy-going melodies that dominated the majority of their last album. In their place are harsh political indictments, spiraling guitar solos and, in several cases, truly jazzy and almost Phish-like grooves. Incubus is a band reborn, yet their sound lacks the focus of previous efforts. Songs like "Agoraphobia" and "Talk Show on Mute" still carry the old-Incubus sound, and thus are the most appealing tracks, at least upon first listen. The truly expansive and new-sounding music on the album like seven-minute "Sick Sad Little World" and the Radiohead-esque "Here In My Room," require some getting used to. The new sound on many of the songs is also undoubtedly due to Incubus' choice to collaborate with legendary producer Brendan O'Brien (Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots and Rage Against the Machine), who infuses many of the tracks with the same energy present on most hard-rock albums. "A Crow Left of the Murder" may not please every Incubus fan. However, Incubus has done something far more important than please their fans with this new record; they have proven that they are willing to take risks and to expand their sound, even at the expense of record sales and perhaps their status as "mainstream" rock artists. In many ways, "A Crow Left of the Murder" is reminiscent of Incubus' first major-label album "S.C.I.E.N.C.E," an album with rough edges that buzzed with the energy of a band on the brink of making it big. Here's hoping that Incubus refines this new voice as they have in the past. Until then, fans will just have to bear with them while they continue to experiment.

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