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S.C.I.E.N.C.E.

Incubus

1997

What happens when you combine metal, funk, jazz, hip-hop, electro, bongo drums, and psilocybin into a blender?  Sounds like mad "S.C.I.E.N.C.E." (pun intended) right?  Well as you might expect from such a combustible combination, the result is an incredibly awesome explosion which sounds a lot like Incubus's major-label debut effort.  One of the most fun albums ever, the creativity, energy, and intensity of virtually every track on the album is infectious.  Folks that came to know Incubus when they went pop (for lack of a better term) would be hard-pressed to recognize the band playing on S.C.I.E.N.C.E.  Aside from Brandon Boyd's occasional catchy choruses, there is very little to be found here that sounds formulaic or that would be categorized as traditionally accessible music.  And that is what makes S.C.I.E.N.C.E. so awesome.  The sonic experimentation going on here is absolutely fantastic and exciting to listen to.  It's a heavy, slamdancing, in-your-face sound for the most part, but there's nothing particularly angry about these songs, which made Incubus stand out from the pack of all the Korn-copycats springing up around the time of it's release.  S.C.I.E.N.C.E. proved that you could make new, innovative, heavy music without it being bogged down by rage.  Aside from the spastic blasts of down-tuned riffage that is essentially the backbone for the album, S.C.I.E.N.C.E. has very little (if anything) in common with traditional heavy-metal music.  Again, these are all good things.  The point is that S.C.I.E.N.C.E. was original.  Not only that, but it was incredibly creative and a helluva lotta fun to listen to.  Still is (even though I'm old now).  Unfortunately, Incubus saw what was going on in heavy music at the time, and didn't want to be apart of that.  Didn't want to be lumped in with all the copycat bands, so they changed their sound.  They still made good records in my eyes (as evidenced by this countdown) but they were never able to capture the lightning-in-a-bottle combustible creative awesomeness that characterises S.C.I.E.N.C.E.  A truly infectious listen, a lot of fun, and the best album from the band.

P.S. - Don't forget to check out the best hidden track of all time.

9.0

Make Yourself

Incubus

1999

On Make Yourself, Incubus essentially reinvented themselves into a radio-friendly alternative rock band, a far cry from their explosive and dynamic funk-metal sound featured on S.C.I.E.N.C.E.  But what Make Yourself lacks in sonic experimentation and intensity, it makes up for with great lyrics with positive messages, and that's what makes this album so special to yours truly.  The general theme of this album is that of realizing one's potential, of soul-searching, of defining yourself and what you're about, and what you want to get out of life.  Lead singer Brandon Boyd sounds a bit world-weary at times, essentially overwhelmed with the possibilities ahead of him, but ultimately defiant and confident in the future, and a lot of late-adolescents and young-adults could certainly relate to his lyrics, including yours truly back in the day.

So what might seem like a glossy alterna-pop record on the surface, actually has some pretty intelligent and affirming positive messages in most of the songs.  This album helped motivate me to literally "make myself" when I was around 20/21, and I'll always remember the feeling of listening to this album and plotting what seemed like the daunting task ahead of me.  That 20/21 year old kid in me will always hold this album in high regard for what it represents.

"You should make amends with you
If only for better health, better health
But if you really want to live
Why not try, and make yourself?" 

8.9

Morning View

Incubus

2001

Being an avid fan of S.C.I.E.N.C.E., I couldn't help but be put off by Incubus's sudden rise to fame and their new identity as radio-friendly alt-rock darlings fronted by a pretty boy who insists on performing topless all the time.  Although Make Yourself grew on me considerably and I came to really enjoy that album, I missed the spontaneous, creative, experimental, and highly combustible Incubus that celebrated psilocybin, sported dreads, and jammed with bongo drums and absolutely shredded on guitar with high-energy and incredibly infectious riffs.

Morning View, perhaps more-so than any other of their post-S.C.I.E.N.C.E. albums, is kind of the antithesis of that idea.  Half of the album is uninspiring, overly melodic, safe, and generic pop-rock that lacks any type of bite, edge, or depth.  I get it, they got rich, and recorded an album in a house on the beach...life is good.  And that's all well and good I suppose, good for them, but that fact pretty much completely eliminates the possibility of anything spontaneous or edgy coming out of what used to be a very creative and exciting band.  That said, there are at least a couple of songs that are admittedly quite catchy and pretty satisfying.  Additionally, there are literally a couple of other songs that have a nice little bite/groove to them, that actually rock pretty hard, but you end up having to wait until the last quarter of the album to get to anything that's particularly interesting.  "Aqueous Transmission" ends the album on an enchanting note, and the few songs leading up to it are arguably the most interesting/satisfying on the album.

Overall though, Morning View plays it too safe.  Brandon Boyd is too hung-up on himself, too satisfied, and the general subdued/laid-back demeanor of the album reflects that.  So it's not bad, but it's another step away from the combustible awesomeness, and a step away from the potential the band had to be something truly unique and special.

8.2

A Crow Left of the Murder

Incubus

2003

Many old-school Incubus fans like myself were quite pleased with this release, as it harkins back to the sonic experimentation that made S.C.I.E.N.C.E. such an infectious listening experience.  It's not quite as energetic or spastic as the aforementioned album, but the guitar work of Mike Einziger really steals the show on many tracks ("Sick Sad Little World" for example).  But perhaps more impressive is the topical tone of the album, reflecting the disenfranchised state of many Americans living in the post 9/11 world under the Bush Administration.  Brandon Boyd may have had the reputation as a pretty-boy, but the dude had always been able to write thoughtful and creative lyrics.  And his lyrical abilities are on full display here.  The album has a dystopian vibe to it, sounding disappointed in humanity.  I, for one, could certainly relate to that feeling, being highly bemused by the American response to 9/11, the blind patriotism that followed, how the nation's fears and raw emotions were being exploited for warmongering, and the disturbing rise of right-wing ideology that had seemed to infiltrate the American psyche at the time.  This album sounded like a voice of reason in an insane world.  It was a dark time, and this album captures that moment in history for me.  So the combination of that, along with Incubus re-discovering their creative roots again, makes this one of my favorite albums of the past decade.

8.8

8

Incubus 8 Artwork.jpg

Incubus

2017

Aside from the mid/late 90s (particularly the S.C.I.E.N.C.E. era) it's always been a little bit embarrassing to be an Incubus fan.  There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is Brandon Boyd's emergence as a shirtless pretty-boy and his associated valley-girl-esq delivery, all of which can be can be a bit too cringe-worthy to tolerate at times.  

And then there's the fact that the band has done almost everything it can to be as radio-friendly and vanilla as possible since the release of 1999's Make Yourself, an album that I personally came to really like in spite of it's undeniably poppy flavor.  2001's Morning View fully embraced that idea almost to a detriment, although I'd be lying if I said it was a "bad" record (uninspiring and soft yes, but far from bad).

But the band restored my faith in them with 2004's A Crow Left of the Murder, an often compelling and resounding album inspired by the dystopian state of affairs under the Bush Administration (which now seems relatively harmless considering the current nightmare we're dealing with).  Crow had an almost experimental flavor at times, and found the band somewhat returning to their funkier/spastic roots, but perhaps more importantly, it had depth and didn't seem as blatantly radio-friendly as their prior efforts.

Since then, things have not gone particularly well for Incubus, primarily because their 2006 follow-up Light Grenades was a total dud on virtually all levels, and then the band took half a decade to release an even more underwhelming/disappointing album with If Not Now, When?

It's now been another half-decade since that album, so to say that Incubus has fallen off of most people's radars would be a bit of an understatement.  But, alas, they have returned with 8, an album that finds the band attempting to get their groove back, and for the most part, it does a pretty decent job of it.  Most of these songs have that patented Incubus crunch and groove, and pretty-boy Boyd does a good job of cooking up some memorable choruses that compliment the jams well.  Basically this album has the up-beat energy that was largely missing from their last two efforts, so it makes for a more engaging listening experience overall.  Some of these songs may actually get stuck in your head, and not in a bad way, so the band deserves kudos for that.

That said, isn't on the same level quality-wise as their best albums.  It's obviously a far cry from the explosive and experimental funk-thrash of S.C.I.E.N.C.E. (not that anyone was expecting an album remotely similar to that), it lacks the well-rounded "hits" and affirming nature of Make Yourself, and it lacks the depth and urgency of Crow.  And although Morning View was a little too cringe-worthy and eye-roll inducing at times, it's hard to say is in the same league as that mildly underwhelming album.

But, if you're an old-school fan of the band, and have a soft spot in your heart for them like I do, then it's hard not to find some things to like on 8.  It's nothing amazing, but it goes down pretty smooth and sounds kind of refreshing to a degree, like rediscovering an old friend you haven't heard from in a while.

Overall, considering the losing streak the band has been on for the past 13 years, it's kind of nice to have Incubus back again, in all their flawed glory...kind of...

7.4

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