A quick preface- I’m not a music critic by trade. I write columns about things that are important to me; things that inspire a reaction, good or bad. It’s really only fitting that my very first album review for this site be about 311.
Loving a band for over 20 years is a strange thing. I guess loving anything for that long is! And it really is like a relationship. You change, they change. Sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. Such has been my journey with 311. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed every bit of music they’ve released, but it’s been to varying degrees. I fell in love at 15 when the Blue album hit the radio like a shock wave (1995). My favorite album, Transistor, was released in 1997. I was still in high school and finding myself. The years following found 311 providing the soundtrack to college and grad school: Soundsystem (1999), From Chaos (2001), Evolver (2003) and Don’t Tread on Me (2005). Then they took a break and we all waited patiently for Uplifter to be released in 2009. And for the first time, I found myself not really digging a 311 album. It had some highlights, but overall it wasn’t very “uplifting”. Universal Pulse was released in 2011 and while it had some definite moments on it, its length left me a little disappointed (8 tracks). I actually started thinking maybe I wouldn’t see another album that could go toe-to-toe with Soundsystem or Transistor. And then Stereolithic was released.
Stereolithic is 311’s first independently released album since before signing a record deal and releasing Music (1993). It’s everything you’d hope to hear when you’ve followed a band for this long. It takes all of their greatest elements (funk guitar, tight raps, some reggae inspiration, thoughtful lyrics) and cranks them up a notch. At the same time, it offers some new sounds we haven’t heard from them before. The guitar on Showdown and the vocals on First Dimension are true standouts. And Tranquility is one of the most thoughtful ballads they’ve offered to date. Hexum’s vocals are truly beautiful, matching the content of the song. But it’s hard to single out one highlight on this album. It’s a true gift to 311 fans worldwide. The group’s bassist P-Nut said this about the album, “Stereolithic is the best thing we’ve done in a long time. I think I can say that pretty easily. Looking back at the recent albums, I think there’s a point where you’re just not as creative as you were when you were younger. We lived that and when that happens you’ve just got to live through it. If you’re going to be criticized and admired for what you do, you’ve got to allow that to happen in large and small doses. You just have to stay creative and get it back if you feel you lost it. Most bands don’t make it through it and most fans don’t make it through it. But we’re not most bands and we don’t have most fans. They’ve stayed with us through all this time, we wanted to give them something for that with this new record.”
And that’s the take away here. 311 knows their fans. I was lucky enough to experience this release in New Orleans for the 8th incarnation of 311 day. I joined 10,000 other excitables (a moniker hardcore 311 fans have adopted) to revel in several days of music focused celebration culminating with a 6 hour, 3 set concert during which 311 played 66 songs (6 of them from Stereolithic) and included the New Orlean’s Rebirth Jazz Band and the Unity Orchestra at times.
It still blows my mind that this band is a mainstay in my library and I only love it more as it grows/ages. Life is a journey and 311 remains my constant musical companion. I suppose that’s what true love is all about. It’s been a wild ride. I wouldn’t change a minute.
feature photo: pearldrum.com