Incubus is back, but not in the way you might expect.
Fresh off an extended hiatus following the release of their last album Light Grenades in 2006 and subsequent touring, the band released its sixth full-length studio album on July 12. What shouldn’t surprise you about this release is that it is different from the band’s previous material. Not only has Incubus demonstrated consistent sonic evolution over the years, but it’s also fairly difficult to predict how long-term interruptions like the recent hiatus will affect a band’s development.
What will probably catch you off guard, however, is just how different the new material sounds. Gone is the ambient distortion, the heavy-rock sound with high-gain guitars and tight drums, and really, a lot of the characteristic intensity that you would find on “Pardon Me,” “Nice to Know You,” or “Anna Molly”. This intensity is replaced by a haunting wistfulness that pervades the entire album and makes for an interesting 50-minute adventure.
From the first seconds of the album’s title track, it is easy to see that it’s a departure from the classic Incubus repertoire. If Not Now, When? begins by fading a wailing chorus of strings into a steady march that allows Brandon Boyd’s voice to slowly explore what this new sound feels like, and doesn’t look back. The entire album is driven by well-executed subtlety and balance, allowing the band’s members to play off each other to the benefit of the group’s aggregate sound. There’s more piano here, as you’ll find in “Promises, Promises,” one of the two singles of the album, and don’t be surprised if you hear a song or two augmented by more orchestral strings and the occasional timpani (yes, timpani). You can actually hear all of the above come together quite nicely in the album’s third track, “Friends and Lovers,” and if you grab a pair of good headphones, you’ll really hear the subtle touches working together to create a beautiful four minutes.
Boyd’s lyrical chops stand out most in “Thieves,” a song that isn’t afraid to talk about politics or religion. The music is interesting in this song as well; you might think it’s a cover of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” for the first five seconds or so until the Kings-of-Leon-esque guitar riff takes over and eventually yields to the remainder of the vocals-driven track.
Other songs that stand out include “Isadore,” a track that is somehow both melancholy and passionate, and “Defiance,” a brilliant stripped-down track that pairs Boyd’s vocals perfectly with some creative acoustic guitar work.
Songs that start with potential but ultimately lack passion and direction include “The Original,” “In the Company of Wolves,” which is rich with Pink Floyd influence but doesn’t really go anywhere, and the second single, “Adolescents.” “Switchblade” is really the only track that doesn’t fit the overall tone of the album, but this isn’t a bad thing; it’s a welcome (if simple) burst of energy following the 7 1/2 minutes of “Wolves” and serves to mix up the album a bit. If Not Now, When? ends on “Tomorrow’s Food,” an existential pondering that is admittedly depressing, but actually rounds out the album nicely, setting the listener down gently at the end of an emotional journey.
Whether this journey is cathartic or confusing is up to your point of view, but if you can listen with no expectations and appreciate a new mellow sound that still manages to cover a range of emotions, there’s a good chance you will find If Not Now, When? a pleasure to behold. It’s a well-crafted experience, and though it is an aberration from previous Incubus material, it is undeniably elegant.
So brush off your timpani and violins and let’s play some INCUBUS!
(1) If Not Now, When?
(2) Promises, Promises
(3) Friends and Lovers