Sometimes, I regret hearing a new release. When I hear that an old favorite band is finally releasing a new album, I generally get this small measure of hope in my chest, but I usually don’t end up actually hearing it. Incubus is an old favorite in my household. I’ve listened to them since high school, played their songs at my wedding, and seen them live multiple times. We still love their music. Their new album “8” released recently, and I wish I would have left well enough alone.
Incubus still consists of Brandon Boyd on vocals and ego, Mike Einziger on guitars, Jose Pasillas on drums, Ben Kenney on bass, and Chris Kilmore on who knows what. One of the bright spots on this album is again the musicianship. Mike has always been an excellent guitarist, and this album again contains some inventive licks. I’ve also always loved Jose’s drumming style, and he hasn’t slowed down a bit, with lots of great beats and fills. Ben’s bass, when it’s heard, is full and groovy as always. I’m unsure of what Chris even contributes nowadays since the DJ-ing is completely gone, but I assume he’s involved with the electronic accents throughout the album. These guys definitely still know how to play.
That’s where the bright spots end. “8” represents the end of Incubus for me. It’s been happening slowly over the past few albums, but I feel that Brandon’s ego and loss of creativity has finally brought this band to the ground. They released an EP a couple years ago to show how they would be revisiting their roots on the new album, and there were indeed a couple good songs on it. There were also two horrible songs that felt dated and juvenile, and I’m afraid this album follows that same path overall.
When a band keeps saying that they are “going back to their roots”, I generally get worried. That means they have forgotten what made fans fall in love with them in the first place. So, the couple tracks that really do seem more like the older Incubus (“No Fun” and “Glitterbomb”) feel more like the tracks you would have skipped rather than the tracks that were the centerpiece. They feel like ideas that were passed over by the band years ago.
The main problems with this album are twofold. First off, you’ll notice that the mix is a muddy mess. The boys employed Skrillex of all people to mix this album, and you would have thought Skrillex would have had a little more expertise than this, but this mix sounds like something homemade from the late 90’s, honestly. Drums, while expertly performed, sound leaden and flat. Guitars are all over the place, sometimes feeling hefty and other times feeling tinny. Bass is mostly inaudible on the album, except for on one or two tracks. Worst of all, Brandon’s vocals are over-compressed so much that they often come off as being through a phone line or in some old crappy garage. All of these sounds mix together horribly, with instruments overruling the others constantly. So, the mix definitely kills what little goodness is here.
The other main problem here is Brandon Boyd. This guy has lost it. He used to be one of the best vocalists around, and now I wish he would just stop. Brandon has simply lost the ability to carry a melody consistently. He tries all sorts of tricks or emotional cues to try to hide this fact, but there is very little in the way of great vocals in this album. Incubus albums have always had intense vocal performances, but either the composition or the ability has been lost, or maybe both. Additionally, Brandon’s lyrics are now garbage. They are either very unoriginal and cliché, or they are juvenile and party-oriented. Gone are the artistic, surreal lyrics from even albums as recent as “If Not Now, When?”, and gone are the gravy harmonizations that he used all the time.
I’ve seen mega fans use words like “mature”, “complex”, and “eccentric” to describe this album. I’m not sure where they get those adjectives, to be honest. The album is more juvenile than any of their past albums, even “Science”, in both lyrical content and musical composition. Additionally, it is lacking in the sense of artistry that soaked their past albums, so the idea of this somehow being more complex just doesn’t make sense. As for “eccentric”, I think they are using that word because this album features some R&B cues (such as on “Loneliest”), which all come off as forced and awful. Problem is that every washed out band turns to something similar to try to grab modern mainstream music fans’ interest. I don’t think they’ll have success outside their own fanbase. Sounds just like Linkin Park or any other soulless R&B crapfest I’ve heard.
Favorite songs are few and far between here. “Undefeated” is definitely the best song on the album, even though the mix is terrible: It contains Brandon’s best performance on the album (he sounds great here, so I’m not sure if it’s a fluke or he’s just lazy everywhere else), and the chorus is emotional. “Make No Sound in the Digital Forest” is actually a pretty cool instrumental track with feelings of “Aqueous Transmission”, just with an added layer of electronic effects. I rather like it.
Worst tracks? “When I Became a Man” is literally a throw away track where Brandon again shows that his voice sucks now. The band tries to put together some sort of instrumental at the beginning of “Love in a Time of Surveillance”, but it pales with anything they’ve done in the past. It’s funny, though, because this is one of the only songs on the album where the bass guitar is apparent. I feel bad for Ben. “No Fun” and “Nimble Bastard” feel like they tried to sound like old Incubus, but they come off as contrived and passionless. “Loneliest” feels like exactly what it is: an R&B song written by someone who has no real experience in that genre. Lastly, “Throw Out the Map” sounds like it’s written for shallow high schoolers and has no real melody to it.
This whole album just feels like Brandon freaked out when he realized the label wanted another album, so he just threw a bunch of unoriginal ideas together with some rejected songs from the early 2000’s and called it a day. The cover art looks like a compilation album and even the album title screams lack of inspiration. I’m just so sad to see this band fall this far. Well, at least Brandon shaved that awful mustache, so maybe there is some hope.