Hearing Aide: Umphrey’s McGee ‘it’s not us’

Jam band is a term thrown around, generally referring to the length and frequency of improvisatory segments a band employs in their live shows. But in the higher rungs of the quasi-genre, it could also be used to describe the amount of styles and influences that are ‘jammed’ into a single concert, album, song, or even lick.

Put on it’s not us, the latest studio output from rockers Umphrey’s McGee, and your friends will be impressed with the playlist you put together, showcasing your eclectic taste. Would you take credit, or own up to the fact that it was indeed just one band? And one album?

The album exhibits McGee at their most dynamic and most intriguing. Celebrating their 20th anniversary in 2018, they’re still a band on the rise, tackling new ground, finding ways to innovate and improve along the way. If an album is a band’s current singular statement, this one screams, “This is us!” That certainly defies the chosen title, which they chose as a reference to their beloved fanbase. This collection of songs isn’t a new direction for the band, rather a culmination of everything that has come before, and it is most certainly “them.”

Their previous release, Zonkey, was a virtual jukebox, with wild mashups of different popular songs. This one plays like a jukebox also, but more impressively, and more successfully encompassing entirely original material. Barroom rock (“The Silent Type”), electric dance pop (“Forks”), 80’s hair band heaviness (“Looks”) or jazzed-up funk (“Speak Up”) all find a home in this player. The infectious blues groove of the not-so-cleverly named “Whistle Kids” would sound right at home billowing up from the smoke at any Dinosaur BBQ. “Remind Me” opens in a slinky groove but switches into a blistering metal rocker, with some signature slash and burn guitar that rears its head throughout the album. It stands in immediate contrast to the ensuing “You & You Alone,” a stripped down folksy track. Though it’s not us is not an album with a finite order, It will hold up well when listening on shuffle, which is how the kids do it these days anyway. Each song stands strongly alone, and like an Umphrey’s McGee setlist, could be reordered on each listen for a unique experience every time.

it’s not us introduces 11 new songs to the ever-expanding Umphrey’s McGee catalog in a tight 50 minute package with impeccable production value. The sound is rich, from the highest high hat to the lowest bass hit. It won’t sound this good live, even if you spring for the high-end earphone experience. And that’s how it should be, a detail that often gets overlooked by bands that value the live performance as much as this band. Nevertheless, these songs will adapt well to the live shows and find a welcome home on many setlists to come.

Key tracks: Looks, Whistle Kids, Forks, Dark Brush