When Incubus' fifth album, A Crow Left of the Murder, drops on February 3, guitarist Mike Einziger's expansive and untamable mane will be joined by another distinguishing trait that's just as impressive.
Einziger's more encompassing style overshadows anything he's done on the band's previous albums. His funk and metal roots haven't completely disappeared; they're now just the foundation on which a repertoire of jazz, blues and progressive rock is built. The album's title track finds him noodling fast-paced and in hollow, free and clear tones when he's not driving the song with mighty chords distorted to the degree of the tracks on Nirvana's Nevermind. Similarly, jazzy tones are evident on "Beware! Criminal," the band's evolutionary successor to "Nice to Know You" from 2001's Morning View. On "Pistola" he sounds like Rush's Alex Lifeson had the Canadian axeman joined the Pixies in the late 1980s.
The addition of new bassist Ben Kenney affords Einziger the leeway to explore new territories within the songs. Kenney, a former member of the Roots and a multi-instrumentalist studio musician who appears on recent albums by Bubba Sparxxx and Blackalicious, can control a song with his bass lines alone, effectually putting a looser leash on Einziger. He neither takes nor relinquishes total control, so most songs have both a bottom to ground it in groove and a nimble top layer striving for higher ground. Kenney and Einziger's marriage is best displayed on the album's last track, "Leech." Their parts weave within the song so each alternately takes the fore while the other acts as a pedestal.
DJ Chris Kilmore's style has also matured with age. The scratching that abounds on the band's breakthrough, 1999's Make Yourself, sounds dated four years later, so Kilmore relies on tweaked-out atmospheres to push Incubus beyond the limits of a standard four-piece. Something like video-game sound effects begins "Megalomanic," the disc's first single and a song singer Brandon Boyd uses to take down a conceited acquaintance. The same space-age aesthetic also permeates "Pistola" and "Talk Shows on Mute," a slow-tempoed acoustic number accented by Kilmore's skittering restlessness, though his effects sound more like skewed radio frequencies from the turn of the last century, not this one.
Boyd, as opposed to his bandmates, is best when he relies on what he has proven he does best. On "Beware! Criminal" his verses surface as rapid-fired blasts as opposed to the sustained howls that sometimes drag out the band's songs. That style is epitomized on the lo-fi sounding "Priceless," where the verses are two-syllable stabs and Jose Pasillas' drums seem like they were tuned by Lars Ulrich circa the recording of St. Anger.
Boyd's drawn-out croons manage to work in the out-of-left-field "See Deveel." Part discombobulated shuffle, part clumsy waltz, the carnivalesque tune is the closest Incubus come to the stoney jams that peppered early songs, though within a much more metallic vein.
For the most part, Incubus succeed when they stick to the crafts they spent four albums perfecting. When they stretch, they don't always have a firm grasp on their targets. And when those exercises stay below the band's talents, such as on the tracks "Southern Girl," a sappy ballad, and "Made for TV Movie," a predictable Creed-sounding rock song, it's probably for the best anyway.
Track list for A Crow Left of the Murder:
- "A Crow Left of the Murder"
- "Talk Shows on Mute"
- "Beware! Criminal"
- "Sick, Sad Little World"
- "Southern Girl"
- "See Deveel"
- "Made for TV Movie"
- "Smile Lines"
- "Here in My Room"