Sound — 7
The niche sound of crunchy, funky alternative rock may have gone out of fashion years ago, but that never stopped 311 from wheeling and dealing the style that brought them their initial fame in the '90s. Accomplishing more than enough to write their own ticket, it's no wonder that 311 went fully independent just a few years ago, after the partly independent release of their shortest album, 2011's "Universal Pulse." Not afraid to voice their disdain towards major labels after that point, 311 would change things up even further with the making of and release of their following album, 2014's "Ster3ol1th1c," where they reunited with Scott Ralston, who produced the band's cult classic album, "Transistor." Though by comparison, "Ster3ol1th1c" wasn't as adventurous of an album.
Now almost reaching the 30-year anniversary of their formation, 311 make even more changes in their twelfth album, "Mosaic." Continuing to work with Ralston as producer, the band also gets in the studio with the reputable pop/rock producer John Feldmann. While Feldmann only acts as producer/co-writer for about a third of the 17-track album, his presence is the most noticeable, adding the most deviating elements heard in 311's sound in quite a while. It's a pushing out of the comfort zone that the band needs, but these moments are also the most pop-minded, and not necessarily avant-garde in the grand scheme of things. The hint of dubstep/trap laced into the heavy-to-melodic rap rocker "Perfect Mistake" sounds like it could be any other contemporary metal band, like Papa Roach or Hollywood Undead, and "'Til The City's on Fire" takes the EDM influence even further, containing a trap breakdown that brashly takes a page from the likes of Diplo or DJ Snake. On the other hand, the R&B/reggae hybrid of "Places That the Mind Goes" makes for a nice new twist on 311's low-gear capabilities, and the opening reggae rocker "Too Much to Think" benefits from its more refined production job.
Ralston also follows suit in the genre dabbling, helping make the dubstep/reggae fusion of "Island Sun," which unfortunately sounds five years stale. But in all other cases, Ralston and the band carve out another helping of 311's alt rock, which sounds noticeably more revitalized than in their previous albums. The dub/reggae rock side of 311 makes a strong return, heard in "Wildfire," "Extension," "Inside Our Home," or the arena-sized closer "On a Roll," and the heavier rock moments brandish some more memorable riffing, like in the mosh-worthy "Too Late," the exceptional guitar soloing in "Face in the Wind," and the pinch of blastbeat drumming thrown into the aggressive "One and the Same."
A couple of those riffs also pay homage to classic 311, which can either be seen as a blessing or curse. The opening riff in "The Night Is Young" sounds fairly similar to the main riff in "Amber," and while that later diversifies itself by blooming into a loud and fuzzy rocker, the main riff in "Hey Yo," which sounds like the close relative to the main riff in "Beautiful Disaster," feels more like a simple recycling of melody.
Lyrics — 6
Coming with the territory of an album with so many songs, the lyrics in "Mosaic" cover a wide span of subject matter familiar with 311, whether it's the peace-and-love call for unity in "One and the Same" ("Come to find out we're highly indivisible / Gonna find out we're something like invincible"), the romantic afterburn of "Places That the Mind Goes" ("Well, I still keep on hoping / With every door as it opens, you'll be standing on the other side"), or the simple beachside relaxation in "Island Sun" ("Take your frozen heart and lay it in the island sun / Oh, bake it like a snowflake, drink the water it becomes").
But there's a mentality mismatch found between songs. While some moments take the spiritual, psychedelic route that's a cornerstone for 311's stoner-friendly music ("The universe explodes, new galaxies pop up" in "Too Late"; "Through astral belts over dismal lands / Spirit on the run, I'm an alien"), other songs flaunt a hard partying hedonism that's much more shallow by comparison ("Ingest contraband and begin to slam / This is life, man, all we do is jam" in "Perfect Mistake"; "All the girls doubled down on the boulevard / And my boys hanging out in front of the bar / Now who's gonna drive me home this time tonight, whoa" in "'Til the City's on Fire"), which clashes with the "mind over matter" mentality of the former.
Overall Impression — 8
311 have undeniably stuck to their ways with an alt rock style dependably entrenched in itself album after album, unconcerned with chasing the coming and going trends in the rock world. Because of that, the genre-expanding initiatives in "Mosaic," that show the band trying out some popular sounds, can be seen as a sellout move to a certain extent. But more importantly, that initiative makes "Mosaic" one of the most interesting albums 311 have brought forth in a while. And with plenty of other songs sticking to the band's home range and feeling much stronger in their composition, even those who are only interested in more of the same can enjoy the uptick in the quality of their alt rock.