Thursday, January 22, 2009

Album review: Umphrey's McGee - "Mantis"

Umphrey’s McGee
SCI Fidelity
January 20, 2009

Like most jam bands Umphrey’s McGee is best known for their live performances and material. The band’s new album, “Mantis”, explores a new method of creation for the rising group. Unlike previous albums, “Mantis” was created entirely inside a studio and is not comprised of any previously played live material. Jam band purists who are initially turned off by the sin of the studio may rethink their beliefs after giving “Mantis” a spin.

Umphrey’s McGee belongs to the small subgenre of progressive rock jam bands. Stage-wise the band is undoubtedly influenced by the methods of both Phish and Grateful Dead. Although UM’s sound is of its own unique style, the band can be likened to progressive giants such as the energetic King Crimson. “Mantis” brings the group back to their 2004 effort “Anchor Drops” in exploring the progressive side of things.

The 20 month period spent in the studio creating “Mantis” was seemingly well worth it. While calling it the band’s best work would be jumping far ahead of myself I’m surely hooked on the album. For fans of previous work by UM all that is loved is back. The soaring choruses led by lead singer and guitarist Brendan Bayliss and the absolutely jarring riffs and guitar shredding by both Bayliss and second lead guitarist Jake Cinninger.

The band’s choice to keep the album at a concise 54 minutes proves to be a good call. Taking up a large part of those 54 minutes is the album’s title track. It is a near 12 minute track that leaves no part of the progressive rock genre untouched. Complete with a few energetic and soulful solos and jazz-funk piano the track speeds by you. When it reaches its virtuous finale you’re left wanting more.

The bottom line is that “Mantis” is essentially full of highlights. I’ve given the album a good five or six plays and don’t ever find myself skipping a track here or there like you might find yourself doing from time to time. This six man band fuses all parts of the band into one tight package. They’ve created their own unique sound and have elevated it to a point of pure achievement.

If you’re new to the genre or the band “Mantis” would be a viable place to start. The hooking lyrics and addictive sounds are enough to grasp the newest of ears. While UM might always be remembered as one of the premier live improv bands of the genre, “Mantis” cements them in a new place: the studio.

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