Three years have passed since 311 released their last studio album, Universal Pulse. The eight-track album was the shortest they had ever released and felt more like an EP then a full-fledged album. The much-anticipated follow up had been announced a few months back, and although the album title was unknown at the time, the release date was set for March 11, 2014. This day isn’t special for most people, but for 311 fans it has always been know as a day of celebration for one of the coolest bands around. Well 311 Day has finally arrived and their latest album, Stereolithic, has just been released.
When I was given the opportunity to interview 311’s lead singer/guitarist Nick Hexum about his new solo project I couldn’t help but ask him about the upcoming 311 album. He said, “its more eclectic” with a “wider variety of styles,” and after listening to Stereolithic, I couldn’t agree more with his description. Here is my track-by-track review of 311’s latest.
• Ebb and Flow: The album starts off very strong with “Ebb and Flow”. Behind lead singers Nick Hexum smooth lyrics is a very heavy guitar riff reminiscent of one of 311’s biggest hits, “Beautiful Disaster”. Ebb and Flow contains everything you need in a 311 song; a mash up of rock, reggae, and rap that both soothes and gets you pumped.
• Five of Everything: The album doesn’t slow down much with “Five of Everything”. The second track talks about how money, fame, and material possessions have changed the bands’ life. They have five of everything, but they only need one.
• Showdown: One consistency with 311 is the way they can transition from hard rock to reggae effortlessly within a song. “Showdown” is a prime example of this. The song begins with bombastic drums and loud guitar, but quickly turns into a reggae infused first verse. It’s not until the chorus that the same song that you hear in the beginning returns and Doug “SA” Martinez comes in with his fast passed rapping that he’s know for.
• Revelations of the Year: After the first three songs, 311 slows down the beat for “Revelations of the Year.” The slowest track of the album is also its weakest. It’s not a bad song; it just sounds like it would have fit better on their last album, Universal Pulse.
• Sand Dollars: Meeting somewhere in the middle between “Five of Everything” and “Revelations of the Year”, “Sand Dollars” is a solid track that contains a very funky bass riff and equally awesome guitar solo.
• Boom Shanka: Another excellent song on the album. The only thing that could have taken “Boom Shanka” to another level would have been to have “SA” Martinez rap his lyrics instead of sing them.
• Make It Rough: This song contains a very happy melody and excellent guitar solos, but the real gem is the role reversal that takes place between Hexum and Martinez towards the end of the song. It doesn’t happen often on a 311 album, but when it does it is a refreshing change of pace to hear Martinez sing lead and have Hexum rap.
• The Great Divide: Speaking of Hexum rapping! Both Hexum and Martinez go all out on “The Great Divide,” switching back and fourth between rapping by themselves and harmonizing on the chorus. This is definitely one of the albums highlights and could easily go down as a quintessential 311 song.
• Friday Afternoon: Not all 311 songs have to be funky and loud, their biggest hit, “Amber,” is very slow and is easily their most recognizable song. The great thing about this band is they don’t try to repeat themselves. They could have easily made “Friday Afternoon” just another slow song try to recapture the magic they made with “Amber.” About a minute in the song starts to change from a gentle to heavy, adding a fantastic solo in the process.
• Simple True: What makes 311 such an interesting band is their ability to incorporate so many different types of styles and influences into their songs. That being said, songs like “Simple True” are very fun and entertaining, but could be even better if there was a rap verse.
• First Dimension: Another track that sounds like a B-side from Universal Pulse. Although it’s a good song, the lack of diversity within the track becomes its downfall.
• Made in the Shade: Consistency is what makes “Made in the Shade” one of the most boring songs on the album. The fact that the beat doesn’t change during the entire track and the same bass line is played throughout makes this song one of the only tracks on the album that could be skipped.
• Existential Hero: Hexum’s spoken word vocals sound more like Cake then 311, but that doesn’t make “Existential Hero” any less exceptional. Hexum changes his style later in the track and Martinez adds his famous rhymes as well. The drum solo alone makes this makes this a track you will keep coming back to.
• The Call: The album begins to slow down after “Existential Hero.” “The Call” is about speaking up and how actions speak louder then words. Unfortunately the tracks inspirational lyrics are paired with a lackluster beat.
• Tranquility: The last track on the album starts off as if it were another slow song, but just like “Friday Afternoon,” the listener is immediately faked out. The song transitions to an upbeat funky anthem, which is the perfect way to end any 311 album.
311’s latest album is testament to what they set out to do over 25 years ago; make unique music that can blend genres, as well as be the soundtrack to the summer. Although the second half of the album doesn’t hold up as well as the extraordinary first half, Stereolithic is their most consistent album since 1997’s Transistor.