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Umphrey’s McGee: Death by Stereo
With fourteen years and more than 1,500 live performances under their belts, Chicago’s Umphrey’s McGee are proven road warriors. Despite all of the time on tour and the hundreds of original songs in their repertoire, the sextet has only released six studio albums, the latest of which is the song-oriented Death by Stereo. By working disco-rock, blues and soul into their progressive sound, Umphrey’s McGee eschews the labels and stereotypes that have haunted the Chicago jamband over the past decade.
While most of the songs on this album have been road-tested, Death by Stereo starts off with two of the LP’s three completely new songs. The synth-driven prog/dance rave up “Miami Virtue” and the bluesy arena rocker reminiscent of a demented version of U2’s “Vertigo” called “Domino Theory,” give listeners an immediate taste of something unexpected from Umphrey’s.
Since they have played so many shows, Umphrey’s deals with the monotony of the road by constantly tweaking their approach—a topic they tackle a number of times on Death by Stereo. It’s expressed in guitar-driven “Search 4” where lead guitarist Jake Cinninger sings “sometimes we need a change before we go insane,” also “Miami Virtue,” where guitarist/vocalist Brendan Bayliss laments, “cause you’ve already seen it, you know the routine” and “Domino Theory” where Bayliss spits “you think you’ve figured out this machine, but you’re way off.”
In contrast to his predominantly instrumental role on 2009’s Mantis, Cinninger moves more toward the forefront on the soulfully driven “Deeper” and the sexy “Booth Love” as well as on “Search 4,” which ends with one of the album’s only guitar solos. The album wraps up with “Hajimemashite,” a song first played by Bayliss and bassist Ryan Stasik’s pre-UM band Tashi Station, but never released on an Umphrey’s studio album. A beautiful string arrangement and layers of acoustic guitars breathe new life into this live anthem that features majestic shredding from Cinninger and powerful vocals from Bayliss.
Umphrey’s McGee may be known for their improv-heavy live performances but that may change if they keep putting out genre-defying albums and demonstrate a willingness to evolve as they do on Death by Stereo.
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