Sound — 9
311 have been doing their thing for a long time - since 1988 - which means they've been around for 26 years. In that time they crafted a sound that was initially all their own by combining elements of reggae, ska, funk and rap with rock music. They were soon copied by a LOT of bands in the '90s and into the early 2000's. The band continued to change over time, especially as the label seemed to take more and more control over the band's sound. "STER30L1TH1C" is the band's eleventh studio album and the first indie release since the band's first few EPs, which were released before they were signed. The album contains 16 tracks including the last "hidden track," and clocks in at just under an hour. The track "Five of Everything" was released as a single from the album in early February.
The album starts with the track "Ebb and Flow," which really could almost have come straight off of their self-titled album from 1995. Next is the single from the album, "Five of Everything," which has 311's signature reggae-rock sound, but comes at it from an angle different than their normal "happy" high energy sound. "Showdown" utilizes some heavy guitar and an interesting little lead guitar line in the intro, but quickly flows into some reggae. "Revelation of the Year" has a really funky sound to it but the entire song had me waiting for a really aggressive slap bass to come in. In "Sand Dollars" there is a cool bass line, with a short little bass solo, that sounds like something you would hear in some old school reggae and makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. "Boom Shanka" has some of the heaviest guitars from the album but still comes off as really chill. "Make It Rough" is getting back to a cleaner guitar sound, and another song that has a very classic reggae sound to it in the verses, musically, but with more modern sounding vocals. The choruses are a little bit heavier with an interesting little guitar hook/mini-solo. "The Great Divide" opens up with some rapped lyrics and a repetitive little guitar riff, but very reminiscent of 311's earlier work. "Friday Afternoon" makes use of a fat dollop of delay on the rhythm guitar, and almost slurred vocals that make this track the ideal little chill out song. There are some heavier guitars that come in later in the track and the song is very riff-driven from that point. "Simple True" finally has an intro with the slap bass I've been listening for the whole album. The song is a really good mix of funk and reggae. "First Dimension" is another one of the heavier songs with a repetitive guitar part with the song being mainly carried by the vocals over the instrumentation. "Made in the Shade" has some serious effects going on with the guitar, and is a kind of sad/nostalgic vibe running strong through the whole track. "Existential Hero" makes use of heavy guitar riffs, and some rapped vocals and an epic vibe. You also here BOTH vocalists rap on this one. "The Call" is a faster-paced reggae rock track, and probably one of my favorites from the album. "Tranquility" is kind of like an "everything is going to be okay" song, which ends with an awesome guitar yet simple guitar solo. The "Hidden Track" is basically 2 1/2 minutes of crickets and chimes. I've got to say, I loved this album.
Lyrics — 9
Nick Hexum and "SA" Martinez have been doing vocals for the band since the early days, and they've created a style of trading off harmony and using singing and rapping in a very seamless way. They've mastered their style of vocals over the years, and at this point their vocal abilities are still in their prime despite their aging. As a sample of the lyrics, here are some from the track "Tranquility": "Journey in peace now/ you don't have to be afraid/ though mistakes, they have been made/ journey in peace now/ No you can't go around it/ you have to walk right through it/ my father told me that so long ago/ every time that you ignore it/ it gets a little more/ you just have to walk toward/ the fear to go/ don't be afraid/ it's all part of the plan for us/ don't be afraid/ it's all part of the plan for us/ all that you hold dear/ is on the other side of that fear." I love the positivity that 311 brings to the table, and the lyrics from "Tranquility" are a great example of that.
Overall Impression — 9
There is definitely a strong vein of nostalgia present in the album, but I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing. The band doesn't seem to be going backwards so much as they seem to be grasping around to find their identity now that they are taking active steps to get out of the control of labels. Yes, the band does seem like they're experimenting with guitar effects and tones just for kicks at times, but is that really so bad? Honestly, at times it felt like 311 was approaching the studio like a new band finding out what kind of music they were trying to make and how they were going to go about it, and I like the results. My favorite tracks from the album are "The Call," "Ebb and Flow," and "Tranquility." The whole album is really one that I could play from beginning to end without feeling any real lulls.