Umphrey’s McGee ‘It’s Not Us’

This album defies genre placement, and covers a stretch from metal to dance, with jazz, prog, and funk in between. There is certainly something for everyone
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Chicago area jam band’s latest output is replete with smooth and magical grooves; more concise song direction than their live shows may suggest; an often mechanical-like interplay of instruments; and, above all—variety. This album defies genre placement, and covers a stretch from metal to dance, with jazz, prog, and funk in between. There is certainly something for everyone. 

‘Half Delayed’, albeit a short piece, has much to lose oneself in—the interlocking rhythm section lay down the carpet of the track, while guitars dart around you in typewriter like clicks; perhaps nodding to the album’s cover art. The lyrics casually address the listener. Despite his relaxed manner, one still pays attention to what Brendan Bayliss has to say. A relatively steady dynamic level is non-intrusively interrupted by a fuzz-driven lead guitar, playing in-between the gaps of the already complex polyphonic texture. But this is simply just to introduce the dual fuzz guitar solo that soon transcends upon the listener. Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinniger play off one another—what sounds like—effortlessly. The piece fades out as it fades in; the writer finishing his work at the typewriter. A lot is crammed into this three and a half minutes. A good choice for one of the first singles released from It’s Not Us

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Elsewhere, album opener, ‘The Silent Type’, pays more homage to dance music than it does The Grateful Dead (a notable influence on the band). Present, still, are the dual guitars, hard panned and darting around. But Umphrey’s McGee play this one a lot more straight, leaving four on the floor, and perhaps appealing to a wider, more commercial, audience. Or maybe just writing a dance track, because they like to dance! The vocals are drenched in effects, particularly reverb, but also a light distortion that sounds like the listener is being addressed over an intercom. 

‘Maybe Someday’ has Umphrey’s once again showing off their capabilities. A broken, mechanical rhythm, utilising beat mis-placement, introduces this track. The listener, straight away, is less at ease. That is until the sing-along chorus greets them—we briefly convert to a major key and feel a sense of relief. The guitars in this track hark back, somewhat, to glam rock and metal of the 1980s. Harmonised guitar lines play off of the vocals in verse two—as if the two are conversing—as the rhythm section settle down their level of complexity, while, at the same time, picking up the pace. 

Another album highlight comes with ‘Speak Up’. On this track, the band employ saxophonist, Joshua Redman, who they have worked with before. This track, undoubtedly, utilises more of the bands jazz and funk influences. Here you will find Steve Wonder-like choppy electric piano, played by Steve Cummins; fast and mischievous bluesy guitar runs; satisfying percussion and sax paired stabs; and, the creme-de-la-creme—the solo section. This solo section features the guitar, saxophone and electric piano, respectively, all taking it in turns to show what they can do. And what they can do is great. The guitar solo is fragmented and staccato, almost sounding as if imitating a saxophone. The vocal hook, “Speak Up, Speak Up”, enters, commanding Redman and his saxophone to do just that. (Which he does.) Finally, the Superstition-esq choppy-bobby-poppy electric piano takes us to the end of the piece in style. 

Lyrically, this album offers little in the way of groundbreaking, heart-wrenchingly emotional content. However, this is not what fans of Umphrey’s expect. This is a band that is very much music orientated. They do have their moments, but these are interspersed among somewhat cliche’ phrases: …’and I know that this is true, nobody really owns the truth like you do.’ If you have come for an emotional, lyrical rollercoaster, then move along.

Overall, It’s Not Us is a very diverse and cleverly written album. Line up album closer, ‘Dark Brush’, against aforementioned jazz-funk track, ‘Speak Up’, and you would be pushed to believe they were written by the same outfit. But that is exactly what Umphrey’s McGee do. There is much to explore here, and I would highly recommend this album. ‘Who to?’, you ask. Well, you know those people who say they like ‘every kind of music’? Well, this is for you guys. Additionally, any casual or life-long Umphrey’s McGee fan, and also to anyone interested in professional musicianship, rock, metal, or even jazz. 

‘It’s Not Us’ is out now via Nothing Too Fancy Music. The full track listing is as follows…

1 The Silent Type
2 Looks
3 Whistle Kids
4 Half Delayed
5 Maybe Someday
6 Remind Me
7 You & You Alone
8 Forks
9 Speak Up
10 Piranhas
11 Dark Brush

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