String Cheese Unravels
The Incident’s New Album Is UnremarkableBy Elizabeth Hempel
Untying the Not
The String Cheese Incident
Sci Fidelity Records
Release Sept. 23
Untying the Not,” a new album from the String Cheese Incident, presents a departure from the traditional styles of this Telluride, CO-based jam band. The usual combination of folk, calypso, funk, and reggae drifts in and out of psychedelic rock and techno influences.
The entire journey through the album strongly reminds me of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, or perhaps even more accurately, their “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” off the Wish You Were Here album.
From the resonating, other-worldly introductory note of “Wake Up” to the quavering violins of “On My Way,” String Cheese’s experimental stylings lack much of the intricacy and optimism of lyrics which characterized their earlier works. Often, the Incident is more overwhelmed by their influences than touched by them.
Changes are apparent immediately from “Wake Up,” the first song of the album. Strong electric guitars replace acoustic and give a hard defining edge to the album from the beginning.
Prominent bass lines, steady percussion and a harmonica replace the guitars as a main feature in the second track, “Sirens,” but the piece seems to lack coherency. The soft, crooning love lyrics of Bill Nershi seem incongruous to the dark overtones pervading “Sirens.” Incongruity, however, is a main theme throughout the album.
For long-term fans of String Cheese, “Looking Glass” provides a glimpse at the fun-loving hippies with refreshing lyrics and original harmonies that distinguish previous albums such as “Born on the Wrong Planet.” “Orion’s Belt,” however, returns to a Pink Floydian acid trip; the best description of this song would be in telling the reader to listen to “Shine On You Crazy Diamond Parts 1-9.” When played side-by-side, one can hardly even differentiate between the two.
The half-wandering “Lonesome Road Blues” begins with a series of loosely-connected musical interludes before a woman declaring “I want to scream” leads into an a capella version of the traditional folk song. The effect ties nicely into the cello and piano “Elijah” before the techno-inspired “Valley of the Jig” lightens things up with its brand of a hill-billy rave.
Profound lyrics, combined with the slow strum of rhythm guitar and the airy, almost-Caribbean feel of the lead guitar, create a high point on the album in “Just Passin Through.”
The originality is quickly dispelled, however, as “Who Am I?” introduces itself with the same sounds, tones, and melodies of the Beatle’s “Strawberry Fields Forever.” The song is catchy and well-arranged with slightly distorted guitars and driving drums.
“On My Way” proves to finally be that original, experimental track the album seeks. Mythical chanting, roaming synthesizers, and sparse percussion contribute to a Mid-Eastern journey, rising and falling through the vocals.
The album on the whole lacks any gel by which it can be held together. Standout tracks like “Looking Glass” and “Just Passin’ Through” provide a musical interlude in the melee of frenetically confused noises prevalent in many other tracks. The only continuity in the album is in the far too prominent presence of String Cheese’s musical influences and the overall disjointed sensation of the tracks.
The String Cheese Incident may be known for variety, innovation, and a place where fans can turn to avoid the manufactured pop of mainstream music, but “Untying the Not” lacks the sense of fun and excitement usually brought by this musically diverse group.