Posts Tagged 'progressive rock'

Mantis by Umphrey’s McGee

“Mantis” by Umphrey’s McGee is an intriguing amalgamation of solid musicianship and creative studio song crafting. It is an ambitious and eclectic work that harkens back to the golden era of progressive rock. This album works, but ultimately leaves something to be desired. While a solid effort in a bold new direction, it doesn’t quite conquer the band’s notorious case of “jambanditis”, also known as “the noodle syndrome”. This common jamband affliction in which technically proficient musicians substitute endless exploratory improv riffage for well honed cohesive songs has dogged the group in the past and is not quite transcended here. The band deserves credit though. They seem to be moving in the right direction by painstakingly crafting multidimensional music that benefits from their formidable musical skills. On “Mantis” they come closer to hitting a difficult target often missed by jam bands-using musicianship to serve songs, not just using songs to serve musicianship.

While listening to this album I heard echoes of the Beatles, Pink Floyd, E.L.O., Queen, Van Halen, the Who, Supertramp, and Styx. These are all bands that spent a great deal of time in the studio perfecting their sound and songs. Theirs was the era of the album and arena, but it was the album that always came first. Touring came after they had something new to say. The remarkable musical tightness of Umphrey’s has evolved through constant touring yet I can’t help but think how much better this album could have been if Umphrey’s spent less time on the road. This album was pieced together throughout several tours and often sounds like it. While not as A.D.D. as some of their other works, the album still seems a quite scattered compared to the best works of the groups mentioned above.

Mantis is a mixed blessing. One can hear that the band is starting to learn that you don’t need a million chord changes and gratuitous odd time signatures to craft good music.  Yet throughout the album interesting elements are thrown into songs that don’t really benefit from them. Still Umphrey’s impressive command of dynamics and musicianship is being channeled in an interesting new direction that grows on you with repeated listening. The album catches on fire at times but ultimately only hints at what they may achieve. Umphrey’s McGee could very well raise the musical bar for the jam band and rock worlds if they put the kind of energy and dedication into studio song crafting that they have been putting into touring. “Mantis” is a good first step in this direction.

Band on the Rise:Escher Bach

Eascherbach, a band that is definitly doing some preacticing.

Progressive rock enthusiasts need look no further than rising stars Escherbach to know that the genre is alive and well. With regular gigs in the area and a recently released CD entitled “Cycles”, the local power trio is starting to make a name for them selves while carving out a unique sonic identity. This radically well-rehearsed group takes classic hard rock energy without the angsty clichés of modern corporate rock and blends it with a unique ADD approach to instrumental composition. Their music hot-wires melodic textures, driving power chords, lightning fast tempo changes, wild dynamics, and accomplished musicianship for a sonic joy ride to riffville.

The band is composed of Neil Carmichael(guitar), Sean Norris(drums), and Minkis(Bass). All three members of the band shine in their own way and like any good power trio there is no real weak link here. They have a very cohesive chemistry that allows for improvised psychedelic tangents, jarring changes, and exploding musical motifs to all turn on a dime. Like most prog rock bands they occasionally get bogged down in overly indulgent not quite clever musical tricks and gimmicks that leave the listener asking why. Still the truly epic moments and songs when they catch on fire are something to behold. Their recent gig at McCormick’s rocked in a thunderously tight way with a real creative intensity I have not seen around here in an original band since the early days of Umphrey’s McGee.

While Escherbach is clearly a band to keep an eye on, they still have a way to go to live up to their potential. Many of their songs have a tight and cohesive feel, yet others feel more slapped together. Their somewhat unrefined first CD was already eclipsed by the mojo they displayed at the recent live gig. With so much talent it will be interesting to watch as this band’s compositional approach develops. Hopefully they will glean those eternal musical truths that less is more and that musicianship should serve songs, as opposed to songs serving musicianship. If they can integrate these concepts into what is already more than entertaining music, Escherbach may just be the next big band from Michiana.