If Not Now, When?
It has been nearly five years – half a decade – since Incubus has released a new full-length album. If Not Now, When? is the band’s seventh studio album, and while keeping material fresh may pose a challenge for some groups, Incubus seems undaunted by the task. Known for changing their sound on every album, If Not Now, When? continues the tradition, finding the California-based group at their most restrained, and perhaps most vulnerable evolution to date.
Yes, Incubus fans from the days of S.C.I.E.N.C.E’s acid rock/nu-metal, feel free to continue your (very) audible groans. If Not Now, When? is a low-key, scaled-back, artsy-fartsy offering that deserves more than just one listen-through. Similarly when Light Grenades was released, listeners needed to let the whole album culminate and coagulate in the cerebellum a bit – a musical stew. Same goes for this. Brandon Boyd’s crafty songwriting leaves each track as a tip of the proverbial iceberg for listeners to explore.
There seems to be a lot of ambiguity in the name “Isadore” that Boyd sings about on the track bearing the same moniker. I’ll let you figure it our for yourself, but those in the know can make their own comparisons to “Anna Molly,” whom Boyd sang about back in 2006 on Light Grenades.
“Everything is fine, as long as you’re a God-fearing, white American,” says Boyd with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek on the track “Thieves” …perhaps some songs are a little less ambiguous than others.
“Switchblade” is track nine on the album, but it is the very first – indeed the only – song to abruptly bring some bombastic, upbeat rhythm into the mix. Jose Pasillas nails the hi-hats while Ben Kenney provides the funky, overdriven bass line, making up the backbone to the entire song. Coupled with Boyd’s percussive lyrics, “Switchblade” is just downright fun, and seemingly out of place on such a serious album.
One begrudging disappointment I have is the lack of Mike Einziger’s Zappa/Vai-influenced guitar solos. This guy spent the years leading up to the release of this album studying music theory and composition at Harvard. I was kind of hoping that Einziger would conjure up some really mindblowing sonic wizardry as a result of hitting the books so hard. But alas, Einziger embraces a greater background role in this album than in any other. He still has some great moments (check out “The Original” and “Adolescents”), but don’t expect anything like the chaotic spew of “Pistola” (A Crow Left of the Murder) or the off-the-cuff improvisations on “Pendulous Threads” (Light Grenades). Still, this album demands more than just a cursory listen to appreciate all of its subtleties.