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311 - Evolver Print E-mail
Tuesday, 22 July 2003

format: CD
label: Volcano Entertainment
release year: 2003
performance: 8
sound 6
reviewed by: Bryan Dailey

Image Being a long time 311 fan, I always look forward to a new offering from Omaha Nebraska’s four funkiest white guys and one Latino singer. Their previous album From Chaos was released back in 2001, but has recently received such a big boost from strong radio play of the songs “Amber” and “Champagne” that it almost seems like it’s too soon for a new 311 album. Nonetheless, it has in fact been nearly two years since From Chaos was released. Now Evolver, an all-new studio album with 11 new tracks, has just hit store shelves.

The first distinct thing you’ll notice about Evolver is that 311 is pretty much over with the rap rock thing. In a recent radio interview, 311’s co-lead vocalist Nick Hexum and bassist P-Nut told Loveline’s Adam Carolla that they have decided that mixing rap with rock, something that used to be a fairly major part of the band’s sound, has gotten old. Evolver is quite an appropriate title now that the band is forging ahead sans rapping. Their new album features all of the other styles that can be found on their previous six studio albums. They don’t really re-invent themselves on Evolver, but rather put a new spin on the kind of music they have been playing for years, with results that are still pretty darn fresh.

The album opens with the first radio single “Creatures (For a While),” a heavy rock song that zigs and zags with abrupt chord changes that are musically a little jarring. After several listens, the changes seen to make more sense, but as a student of music theory, I still find myself sometimes asking, “Why did they pick THAT chord?” The huge hook in the chorus somehow anchors this musical jambalaya that is sure to be a hit in the mosh pit when 311 stops in to a concert hall near you.

Even though slap bass intros are as dead as the guitar solo in the year 2003, bassist P-Nut thumps his thumbs on his six-string bass on the song “Don’t Dwell,” just like it’s 1994 all over again. This song is a throwback to the hard-rocking mid-‘90s sound from the 311 albums Grassroots and Music.

Although they have pretty much left rap out of the mix, the trip-hop beats that Hexum began experimenting with on 311’s 1997 album Transistor are alive and well on Evolver songs such as “Give Me a Call” and “Crack the Code.” Heavy rock sounds of course get thrown into the songs, but these spaced-out drum loops and electronic sounds are part of the evolution of 311.

As much as I like most of the songs on Evolver, there are a few mediocre, throw-away tunes, the most forgettable being “Same Mistake Twice,” which features a lyrical melody so uninteresting that it now gets skipped on every listen. 311’s signature vocal harmonies and catchy choruses do a little to salvage the song but can’t quite save it from being a musical bore.

Dabbling in a 311-ized version of art rock, the album’s final song “Sometimes Jacks Rule the Realm” is a small epic that begins almost as an acoustic guitar-based ballad. It gently rolls along to a climactic bridge, then features an instrumental bass solo outro by P-Nut as the album comes to a close. The song’s medieval-inspired lyrics would make Yes or Rush quite proud. On many of their songs, 311 goes in directions that are melodically and rhythmically so different than most rock bands today that I give them major props.

Even on their first few albums as high-energy twentysomethings, 311 has never been afraid of showing their sensitive side and Evolver is no different. Songs like “Beyond the Gray Sky” show the band’s love of laid-back reggae. With lightly strummed wah-wah guitar parts by Tim Mahoney and the Timbale-like snare drum sound of Chad Sexton, it’s sometimes hard to believe 311 features such a non-Caribbean rhythm section. An up-tempo reggae-influenced vibe permeates the track “Give Me A Call.” This song is the perfect example of all of the 311 sounds melding into one song, It’s light, heavy, fast, slow, all at the same time with a fat chorus and a killer instrumental section.

Sonically, 311 albums have never been technically stellar. They tend to not be overly polished. The sound on Evolver lacks some midrange detail and a slightly harsh high end that does not translate well on all systems. Famous mixing engineer Ron St. Germain mixed and co-produced the album with 311. On my Paradigm/Kenwood system, the lack of midrange becomes quite apparent, even on speakers that tend to reproduce mids quite well. Evolver, however, is really music for the weekend to crank in the car while you are speeding through town with the top down, not music to test new speakers or electronics with. It’s not a great-sounding recording but it’s good enough for you to use as a soundtrack to the end of the summer of 2003. Coming in at a short 41 minutes and change, do know that you won’t be able to drive too far with just this CD, with so pick up a few 311 classics like Grassroots, Music and Transistor to go along with Evolver.

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