Essay About Umphrey’s McGee Death By Stereo Album Review
I have long-awaited this album. I would say I was more excited about the release of this record than any record to come out since The Strokes’ Angles, and truthfully I wasn’t even half as excited about that release. Don’t get me wrong, I love The Strokes, but Umphrey’s McGee is my favorite band. I have 19 shows under my belt (a nominal number amongst Umphrey’s fans), and gave up my tickets to my 20th show tomorrow night in New Hampshire to see Phish’s Vermont Flood Benefit Concert tomorrow (come on, it’s Phish in Vermont for the first time in 8 years, check out the live webcast at www.phish.com). There is a reason that myself and other Umphs Heads have seen these guys so many times.
Like many “jam” bands, they never play the same show twice. But more than that, every show is an experience unlike any other you have ever had. You have Jake Cinninger, a real living virtuoso on the guitar; this guy is better than any other guitar player I have ever witnessed (I have seen John Mayer, Trey Anastasio, Keith Richards, and Jeff Beck play). Brendan Bayliss is on backing guitar and lead vocals, a master at the axe himself who really compliments Jake’s talents. Kris Myers is a demon on the drums.
I say that because he actually looks like a demon during the show, he is a schooled musician in Jazz percussion, and fast as they come. I once told him before a show that I thought he looked like a demon. I think he took it as a compliment. You won’t find a better percussionist than Andy Farag. Joel Cummins on the keys can play Elton John to Mozart, and hip-hop to rave. And lastly, you have my boy, Ryan Stasik, the bassist. He is the goofiest dude on stage at all times, and next to Mike Gordon, may be the best improvisational bassist in the game. As you can tell, I am very passionate about these guys.
Finally the day had come. The road warriors of the progressive rock world have released their first studio album since 2009’s Mantis. Death By Stereo, the band’s 6th studio album since their inception in 1997 is the compilation of new, but road tested songs, along with entirely new material. Umphrey’s McGee is a band that draws its power from its touring (more than 1,500 shows in 14 years), and is not widely renowned for their studio work. In other words, the studio albums only slightly resemble what you will hear at the show. Songs that have a two-minute track time could be jammed out to twenty-five minutes.
Mantis, a very instrumentally driven album, was already laden with jams and transferred beautifully to the stage. Death By Stereo has far more vocal input from all band members, and is somewhat lyrically coherent throughout. For many people, Brendan’s voice is not appealing, but on this album, I believe he sounds exceptional. He still doesn’t sing as much as any other lead vocalist. The album is a little bit of a change for the band as far as sound is concerned. They often talk about the monotony of touring, and the need to keep things fresh and different for them to be creative artistically.
So this album is very diverse in its sound. Songs like “Booth Love” (I attended a concert where the band called out two concert goers for making “Booth Love”) will immediately catch the ear of people who don’t even like progressive rock. In my estimation this song and “Wellwishers,” two songs that have been road tested for over a year, will be favorites for those of you who purchase the album. “The Floor,” an older song from the Umphs’ live set lists, is the other song on the album that I knew I liked the first time I heard it.
As far as seeing their musicianship on display on the album, “Search 4” has a very impressive shred from Jake at the end. “Hajimemashite,” a song that Brendan and Ryan have been playing since before the band’s formation, and never been released on a studio LP, is beautifully layered with acoustic guitars, and is worth a solid listen.
My appraisal of this album is hard to gauge, because for me, most of these songs have been on my iPod, from live performances for over a year now, and this isn’t my first impression. For the songs that I was already acquainted with, these studio versions are a nice clean version of the songs I have come to love.
For the new material, I am so excited to see what they do with “Deeper,” and “Miami Virtue” in concert. These new songs show that Umphrey’s McGee is growing, and further expanding an already vast catalogue of influences. The bottom line with this album is that you should buy it, listen to it, and if you do not love it, don’t worry, because the band is so much more than their studio work. Do yourself the favor, contact me, and we will get you to your first show, and then your second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth, because you will want to see them every opportunity you get.
If you like progressive rock, rock and roll, metal, reggae, blues, bluegrass, or rave music, you will probably find something to like about Umphrey’s McGee. Check it out, and let me know what you think. Also, if you go buy the album on the release day Tuesday, September 13th, and you check their website, www.umphreys.com, you can locate an independent record store near you, and get a free copy of the band’s cover songs spanning from across the years. Oh yes, they do covers too.