CD Reviews: Incubus, George Harrison, Birth Rites, Dead Larry

BY DI ARTS STAFF | JUNE 16, 2009 7:11 AM

Memories of Sweet Tunes

Incubus: Monuments and Memories
**** out of *****

It’s been three years since the alternative rockers in Incubus have released an album. OK, so the band’s latest, Monuments and Memories, is a greatest-hits album — but it’s one that shouldn’t be overlooked. The two-disc, 26-song compilation features old favorites, rare acoustic versions of tunes, and even a smattering of new tracks to entice listeners.

Some old goodies that may have been forgotten over the years since the Incubus’ début in 1991 (though its first album Fungus Amongus didn’t drop until 1995), reappear on Monuments and Memories. These include such favorites as “Drive,” “Love Hurts,” and “Megalomaniac,” classic tunes that never get old (let’s just hope the video for “Megalomaniac” doesn’t get re-released; some things are better left forgotten).

The Incubus fun doesn’t stop at old hits — the native Californians have included two new singles on the first disc, “Black Heart Inertia” and “Midnight Swim.” Both tracks are stellar and bring back the flavor of Incubus (and the hope for a completely new album to drop soon). It seems like a few semesters at Harvard’s music school did guitarist Mike Einziger good — his guitar picking skills are as brilliant as ever.

Though the B-Sides of Monuments and Melodies are a little more sketch — some of the tunes were rejected off past albums — they’re still good tracks and offer a fresh taste of Incubus. For fans who haven’t heard any of these rarities, “While All The Vultures Feed” is a standout, as is “Pantomime.”

Monuments and Melodies also features Incubus playing a cover of Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy.” Though the alternative rockers sure aren’t any pop princes, the band find its way to make the track its own (but it’s still a little eclectic and weird — though, that’s probably just because it was Prince’s tune).

If Monuments and Melodies does anything it shows fans that Incubus has not only been missed over the past few years, but the band still has the ability to make kick-ass music.

Rachael’s Picks: “Megalomaniac,” “Black Heart Inertia”

— by Rachael Lander

A compilation — of things you should already have

George Harrison: Let it Roll - Songs of George Harrison
** out of *****

Compilation albums are great. They allow people interested in an artist with a long career to get a feel for that musician without having to become heavily invested. That is what Let It Roll: Songs of George Harrison billed itself as. It failed, massively.

Featured on the album are three live recordings from the 1971 Concert for Bangladesh. All three are Beatles songs Harrison wrote (“Something,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” and “Here Comes the Sun”), which is basically counterproductive. They’re Beatles songs, not Harrison songs. Harrison had to spend a lot of time, like each of the Fab Four, establishing himself as an individual musician after the group broke up. These tracks seem to pigeonhole him to his Mop Top role.

One of the two bright spots of the album is “I Don’t Want To Do It,” a song Bob Dylan wrote and gave to Harrison. It was never released on a Harrison album, but it was featured on the soundtrack to the 1984 movie Porky’s Revenge. But the truth is, that just like 28-page booklet featuring rare and unreleased photos of Harrison, this song is something only for seasoned Harrison enthusiasts, not the casual listener looking to explore Harrison’s wonderful solo carrier for the first time.

Perhaps then, this album was simply misinterpreted. Is it possible it should have been pitched to Harrison veterans, rather than newbies? No.

The album also includes all four of Harrison’s solo number one hits (“My Sweet Lord,” “Isn’t it a Pity,” “Give Me Love,” and “Got My Mind Set On You”). These songs are indispensable, but let’s be honest — if people are even remotely interested in Harrison’s solo music, they probably already have these songs. Why on earth would longtime listeners need, or even want, these?

The album’s other highlight, the remastering, is the only thing that appeals to both types of listeners. All the tracks were touched up by Giles Martin, the son of legendary Beatles producer George Martin, and they sound amazing (especially the live songs). In the end, the album really isn’t for seasoned vets or new recruits. In the end, it isn’t for anyone.

Tanner’s Pick: “I Don’t Want To Do It”

— by Tanner Koomar

Birth of a local superstar

mp3 samples: Birth Rites

"Beringia (The Thought)"

"Big Dream"

Birth Rites: All Success Stories
**** out of *****

Look out, Picador. Watch yourself, Yacht Club. And to those at the Mill — prepare to be blown over. The next sensation to take over the local music venues has officially made its mark.

It wouldn’t be surprising if the members of Iowa City rock act Birth Rites (Jack Hennessy, Setu Vora, Greg Markus, and former DI reporter Jarrett Hothan) soon ascend to local celebrity status.

The band’s new release, All Success Stories, is a tight collection of four-and-a-half to five-minute rock songs. The emotional, melodic vocals are reminiscent of post-hard-core band Bear vs. Shark, while the rhythm section keeps booties shakin’ in the style of Menomena and Franz Ferdinand (this is best exemplified in the slammin’ second track, the hard-hitting epic “You’re Gonna Need A Bigger Boat”).

The disc’s title, All Success Stories, could certainly be seen as a cocky over-endorsement — if the album wasn’t so damn good. One would be hard pressed to find a song on the disc that doesn’t have something musically captivating radiating within. The lyrics are catchy and harsh throughout each song, thereby applying a sense of cohesion over eight very different tracks that individually feature everything from intermittent harmonized guitar solos, chugging pianos, ear-splitting drum riffs, and pirouetting flute melodies — one of the highlights of the album’s fifth song, “Beringia (The Action).”

The dual guitars that reveal themselves as the signature sound of the album lift and drive each other over melodic spectrums which are sure to keep audiences singing and smashing along until the Birth Rites’ next big success.

All Success Stories throws together the dance beats, guitar jams, and flowing melodies of mainstream alternative/dance rock in one hell of a mixing pot, providing a smoothly abrasive sound like a gravel-peach milkshake. With all the instrumental and compositional talent piled into Birth Rites, it’s clear the local music scene is gonna need a bigger boat.

Ryan’s Picks: “Beringia (The Action),” “You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat”

— by Ryan Fosmark

Two Parts Funk to One Part Drunk

mp3 samples: Dead Larry

"Your Funky Friends"

"The Rocks (ft. Animosity)"

Dead Larry: Story Time
**** out of *****

The funk masters in Iowa City’s Dead Larry lay a drunken, psychedelic piece of groove cake on the table with the group’s first full-length release, Story Time. The pseudo-concept album pays homage to the fast-paced rock ’n’ roll of the ’70s combined with funkified, soulful choruses and rhythms.

The MC5’s “Ramblin’ Rose” channels through the second track, “Rocks (ft. Animosity)” with sporadic falsetto vocals and pounding guitar chords. Iowa City rapper Animosity’s contributing rhymes bring about an unexpectedly fitting modernized urban flavor to the otherwise retro song.

Dead Larry’s use of synthesized sounds and airy background melodies create an eerie, friendly depth to most of the album’s tracks. This is perfectly exemplified by the overly modulated spoken-word opening song, “The Story of Dead Larry,” which provides the backstory of the band itself (a band of friends stumbles upon a funky source of inspiration in the form of a dead mansion owner’s possessions, including vinyl records, vintage clothes, and a bunch of alcohol).

Dead Larry has crafted a sexy, spooky story of an album that rides on an array of instruments including overdriven tube guitar amps and a raspy voice box. The quality of the sound on the CD betrays the price tag (or the lack thereof). The guys from Dead Larry are giving the album away for free to anyone who makes an appearance at the group’s release show Friday at the Yacht Club — a gift to those who gather ’round the stage for a taste of the inebriated, funky rock show called Story Time.

Ryan’s Picks: “The Rocks (ft. Animosity),” “Your Funky Friends”

— by Ryan Fosmark

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