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Umphrey's McGee: Anchor Drops

I'm pushing 37 years old and beginning to find that metal just doesn't always do it for me anymore. Granted, it's still the main type of music I listen to, and it gives me unbridled joy like no other music. But I just can't listen to it all the time. Is something wrong with me, I've wondered more than once. Then I watched the Live From Bonnaroo Music Festival 2002 DVD (see, I told you I was going through some sort of bizarre transition), saw a guy interviewed wearing a black Metallica T-shirt and thought, "Hey, maybe I'm not so weird."

Hearing Anchor Drops, the fourth studio album from the so-called jam-band Umphrey's McGee, assured me I was going to be OK. (Incidentally, Umphrey's McGee played Bonnaroo this year.) Hailed as the leading contender to replace the newly departed Phish on the jam-band scene, this Chicago outfit is also making a splash on the progressive-rock and metal scenes. In fact, I'll argue that the 14 songs on Anchor Drops hold together more cohesively and better display an acute sense of overall melody, technical finesse and songwriting craft than many albums I've heard this year by prog or metal bands. The songs aren't so long that they get lost in their own arrogance, and the dazzling time-signature changes, taut rhythms and harmonies, and pure enthusiasm Umphrey's McGee displays hold great cross-over appeal.

The first three tracks here ("Plunger," "Anchor Drops" and "In the Kitchen") are a progger's paradise, while "Bullhead City" makes a stab at mainstream acceptance via a lovely pop song featuring a female vocal. "Miss Tinkle's Overture" opens with what could be karaoke for Yes before melding into an intense, groove-heavy instrumental. An insane dual-guitar solo highlights "Mulche's Odyssey," but the album concludes on a gentle note with "The Pequod," a short acoustic instrumental that reveals shades of California Guitar Trio. Then there are the lyrics, which are both witty yet direct ("Something about me stinks/Something about me smells/I don't want that to be/How you remember me") and philosophical yet earthy ("Your words won't carry that much weight on the shelf/Who are you gonna blame for representing yourself").

In short, Anchor Drops is powered-up, syncopated psychedelia that should keep turning a bunch of ears inside out.

Track Listing:
1) Plunger (5:59)
2) Anchor Drops (4:48)
3) In the Kitchen (3:58)
4) Bullhead City (4:32)
5) Miss Tinkle's Overture (5:37)
6) Uncommon (2:50)
7) Jajunk Pt. I (3:19)
8) 13 Days (4:28)
9) Jajunk Pt. II (3:44)
10) Walletsworth (4:37)
11) Robot World (3:30)
12) Mulche's Odyssey (4:56)
13) Wife Soup (7:43
14) Pequod (2:55)
Total Time: 64:46

Added: March 28th 2005
Reviewer: Michael Popke
Related Link: Official Umphrey's McGee Web Site
Hits: 4421
Language: english

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Umphrey's McGee: Anchor Drops
Posted by Murat Batmaz, SoT Staff Writer on 2005-03-28 22:30:33
My Score:

Umphrey's McGee is a Chicago-based American (jam) band that have been around since the mid-90's, and they've released a bunch of studio and live albums as well as a DVD. I haven't heard any of those recordings before- Anchor Drops is their first European release and the only one I've heard from them so far.

Initial spins of this album revealed that Umphrey's McGee are a fairly impressive jam band with heavy emphasis on improvisation, challenging and jazzy song structures, complex and funky rhythm work, bluesy guitar grooves, etc. Their style is certainly varied and quite unpredictable. After listening to this disc a good many times, I read a few interviews of the band which made it clear that Anchor Drops actually sees them playing a relatively more restrained form of music compared to their previous records. If that's the case, one can only say this band may want to go into a more defined style music-wise, as I believe they tend to branch out a bit too much during some moments. It's great their songs offer so much diversity and blend myriad of styles, but some songs being developed entirely by improvasation techniques sound a tad direction-less if you know what I mean. Other than that, the musicianship is extremely tight, displaying interesting tempo changes, colorful cymbal work, complex drum patterns and melodically charged guitar solos, plus competent vocals from four out of the six members.

The songs on this 64-minute disc are deeply rooted in freeform jazz enhanced by various instruments including a separate percussion player named Andy Farag who adds tribal rhythms from South American music as well as funky beats. The first set of songs are more energetic sonically. Take the speedy opener "Plunger", with its full of gigantic guitar riffs, plodding bass lines, unison solos, and alternating rhytms between complex harmonies and improvised polyrhythms. The second half of the CD is more varied, both in style and tempo. "Uncommon" and "Jajunk Pt.1" are slow tracks with great piano melodies, tribal rhythms and interesting percussion. "Walletworth" sounds almost like a country song with female backing vocals, while "Robot World", as its name suggests,
contains a technically crazy funk intro carefully blended with intricate drumming (the drumming is tight throughout the whole disc and perhaps the most powerful element on this disc) and analog moogs played by guitarist Jake Cinninger.

There is an electronic piece, "Mulch's Odyssey", with small doses of electronic beats to widen the album's scope. "Wife Soup" is one of the better songs on the CD as it greatly impresses thanks to the frantic instrumental passage that runs through it. This track is contrasted by the bluesy tune, "Pequod", starting with sorrowful vocals and shifting to a groovy metal drive. All of this is backed by silent piano notes. The album ends with an all -acoustic instrumental. The final result is certainly worth listening to, but a bit too broad. It's a given this band is pretty involved in instrumental improvisation and might be doing a splendid job on stage, but when put on CD, I think some of the magic is gone. Who knows, maybe my opinion will change with repeated listens or as I check out their previous albums.

2004 Sea Of Tranquility
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