The Incubus and its Amazing Grenades of Light
“(Art)…rescues us from our self-chosen triviality, to which we are so prone. It’s like a deep organ note that makes my hair stir and a shiver run through me. I ‘pull back’ from life, like a camera taking a long shot with a wide angle lens. I quite simply become aware of more reality than before.” -Colin Wilson
The above quote can be found in the ‘Bio’ section of EnjoyIncubus.com, where one can also find much more about the multi-platinum recording artists, including news surrounding their latest release, Light Grenades.
While some may tout this as just another release from the So.Cal group, it is hardly that. Light Grenades takes the best bits and pieces of the ‘Incubus Sound’ (of which, there are many such bits), and wraps them in a tight, well-written package of sonic art.
The music is distinctively Incubus, yet, there’s something…different about it. It’s deeper and more mature, and yet, there’s the perpetual child-like qualities that make Incubus, Incubus. With this album, you’ll find the velvet voice of Brandon Boyd laced with delicate keyboard and guitar work, all driven by steady, yet unobtrusive drumming. You’ll also find head-trippy mixtures of acoustic guitar and full-on, rip the top off rock. All of this mixes into what many are calling Incubus’ best effort to date, and I would have to agree:
Quicksand: On first listen, this first track seems to be one of those slow, interlude type tracks, though one quick glance and one realizes that the 2:13 long song is no interlude. The vocals are airy, and the music has an electronic quality that’s pleasant, yet unexpected from the group. The track continues on in this manner until it comes to what sounds like the chorus, and just like that, the song fades away into an interesting mix of electronic ‘whips’ and dissonant strings.
Kiss To Send Us Off: The title to this song, in conjunction with the slow, siren-like entrance by the string section can lead listeners to believe this track to be another one of Incubus’ signature ballads. They, as will become apparent, would be wrong. A Kiss to Send Us Off is the real opening track to Light Grenades, with it’s driving beat and excellent guitar work by both Incubus veteran Mike Einziger and newcomer bassist Ben Kenny. Of course, there’s the ever-present DJ Kilmore to send the already-full sound to that next level, all topped off by the unmistakable voice of Brandon.
Dig: This is the ‘Drive’ and ‘Stellar’ of this album, all wrapped into one. It’s also my musical drug of choice these days. Dig is a musical and lyrical masterpiece with the potential to supplant ‘Drive’ as the masses all-time fave Incubus song. Enough can’t be said about how great this song is. It’s soft, yet driving. It’s barely there, yet the sound is full and satisfying. It gets stuck in your head with the unforgettable melody, and you will be in no rush to get it out.
Anna Molly: This is the first single from Light Grenades, and from the beginning, you can tell this song will be different. From that ‘what the hell is that instrument?’ in the beginning (it’s called a mandolin guitarophone) to the slightly ‘off’ chords of Mike E.’s guitars, this is a total rework of the established Incubus sound. Dj. Kilmore is resigned to focusing totally on keyboard work on this track, though, oddly enough, you really don’t notice the absence of his trademark turntable ability. This song, as it stands, really defines the sound for this album; familiar, yet different (and full of wonderful, new instruments!). This song is also host to the first video of the album, which can be found on YouTube.com (where else, right?)
Love Hurts: Coincidence or not, the first chord of this song is the exact same first chord that’s found on Three Days Grace’s new single; in fact, their in the same key. Also, the subject matter of both songs is somewhat similar, but to be honest with you, I prefer Brandon’s voice much more. Sonically, the song picks up where ‘Anna Molly’ left off. Dj Kilmore is back on keys for this track. Ben Kenny is playing the more traditional bassist role of support, rather than star, player. His playing is constant, groovy, yet unobtrusive. The same could be said for Mike E. In fact, the electric guitar is almost resigned to an after thought, carving out the right sized space for Brandon’s voice to come through with his well word-smithed lyrics.
Light Grenades: The title track from this CD is everything you’d expect it to be; driving, fast, and just very well put together. The chord structure is new from both this album, as well as from Incubus as a whole. The guitar solo is reminiscent of the piece done for console gaming company Bungie for Halo 2. All in all, this track is a short, blindingly fast trip from start to finish that’ll leave your head spinning on it’s shoulders, all the while craving more of whatever it was that just set it whirling into space.
Earth To Bella (Part 1): This is another one of my favorite tracks of this album. At the start, it’s soft, beautiful, and innocent. Then, just like that, Mike E. and the boys come crashing through in their unforgettable style. Everything, even Jose’s cymbals seem to be heavily distorted, making for an interesting mix of sonic textures. On the one hand, there’s the ever-smooth sound of Brandon’s voice, serenading you like only it can. On the other hand, the band’s sound seems to smack you around like giant, golden brick. Then, just like that, it all fades into nothingness…
Oil and Water: This is another beautifully thoughtful journey into Brandon’s mind as he croons about the differences between him and the lucky soul he’s singing to. The beat is driving and constant, yet at the same time, the song as an overwhelming soothing quality that can only be Incubus. Unlike the name of the song might suggest, everything blends amazingly well in this song, producing another memorable Incubus moment.
Diamonds and Coal: Continuing the theme of naming songs out of natural things, Diamonds and Coal continues in the same musical vein as Oil and Water. There’s the same driving beat, but there’s something not-so-vaguely reminiscent of popular 1980’s music. There’s definitely the minimalistic quality that was so popular back then, but it’s not so overpowering that it’s annoying….like it was back then….
Rogues: If you forced me to pick a least favorite song on this track, this would be it, but only because I’m not particularly fond of the opening, but beyond that small, short blip of music, this is a great song. It’s a new sound for Incubus, but there’s something vaguely familiar about it, and as soon as I find out what it is, I’ll let you know. Perhaps its a return to the rap-esque speed at which the verse lyrics are spat into your ears that helped the fivesome define their own sound ‘way back when’.
Paper Shoes: This song keeps the good vibes going with seriously simple drumming laid under interesting acoustic guitar work and hum-able chord changes. If nothing else, this song shows off the amazing range of the groups talent. From all-out, balls to the wall rock to the most simple, beautifully lyrical ballads, Incubus has the amazing ability to crank out hits on either end of the spectrum. This is a hauntingly beautiful song.
Pendulous Threads: In case your wondering, the word Pendulous does have something to do with pendulums; the word means to hang loose, as to allow freely swinging motion. This definition seems very fitting, given the almost Avant-Garde like intro that gives way, ironically, to a tight-fighting syncopated rhythm. This gives way to an even tighter, driving beat. The chord structure in this song continues Incubus’ venture into new territory. And, as usual, they emerge with a great sounding song.
Earth To Bella (Part 2): There’s some internet chatter that suggests that these two songs (Earth To Bella Parts 1 & 2) should actually be one song given the similar chord progressions and subject matter. I, on the other hand, can appreciate the subtle differences between the two pieces of work and can stand having them separated on opposite ends of the record. Part 2 is content to let the listener fill in the rest of the story begun in Part 1 with only simple vocal stylings to offer direction. The track dissolves, oddly enough, into the perfect fitting for the beginning of Quicksand; indeed, it took me a few beats to actually figure out that the album had actually begun again from the beginning.
In this, their 6th studio album, Incubus ventures out into new musical territory, both in instruments used and personnel. With any wildly popular group such as Incubus, any change in instrumentalists is bound to bring some opposition from ‘die hard’ fans. Holding true to form, hardcore Incubus fans initially rejected the notion of Ben Kenny becoming an integral (read permanent) part of the Incubus machine. This album, I do believe, will lay all their fears to rest and serve to quiet those who still seek to speak ill of Kenny’s presence. No, BK’s not Dirk Lance, and no, you won’t hear Dirk’s trademark funky slap bass lines on this album. What you will hear in it’s absence is a tight-fighting, more rock-oriented groove laced with bits of jazz that only Kenny can conjure out of wood, strings, and his talented fingers. Make no mistake, this is the new sound of Incubus, and they bang it out like a finely tuned machine running perfectly on all 12 cylinders.