The String Cheese Incident
Untying the Not
First Appeared at The Music Box, October 2003, Volume 10, #10
Written by John Metzger
As if to forewarn fans that its latest effort Untying the Not is something completely different, The String Cheese Incident co-opted the pig utilized by Pink Floyd on its 1977 tour and sent it soaring over the crowd during its album release party at the Austin City Limits Festival. In borrowing one of the most recognized icons in the history of rock ínĎ roll, the group made a bold, determined statement to the world that itís moved far away from being a typical jam band. Fortunately, its new suite of songs lives up to this promise.
Not unlike the artistic creations of Pink Floyd, Untying the Not is constructed around two distinct, but cohesive, album sides, and each is full of strange twists and turns that are quite different from anything The String Cheese Incident has ever released. As evidenced by the Irish reel-turned-techno groove of Valley of the Jig, the bluegrass-infused bent of its prior efforts is now buried within something greater, and with the help of producer Youth (The Orb, The Verve), the band uses a variegated sonic playground to bend its music in prismatic and psychedelically pleasing ways. Spoken word segments by Chet Helms, Carolyn Garcia, Julia Butterfly Hill, and others are grafted onto the instrumental overtures, drifting invitingly over the hypnotic terrain. Indeed, Untying the Not is the re-emergence of the proverbial "headphone album," as ethereal wisps of sound skitter freely about the sometimes soothing, sometimes eerie, ambient passages.
Lyrically, The String Cheese Incident continues to develop the themes that connected the songs on its previous effort Outside Inside, expanding upon the concepts of life, death, and spiritual rebirth with the affirmable hippie vibrations of peace, love, and harmony. Thereís a touch of reggae and a splattering of jazz; thereís the jam quotient of Phish, a hint of The Beatles, and the rock ínĎ roll bravado of The Who; and all of it is rolled together to formulate a delectable dish of life-affirming social consciousness.
Without question, The String Cheese Incident has matured considerably over the past few years, and Untying the Not continues the bandís growth and demonstrates its intense zeal. Its always been an eclectic ensemble, and the songs it has covered in concert frequently have been mined like gold nuggets from the pantheon of rock, folk, jazz, and bluegrass. However, without turning its back on everything in its past, The String Cheese Incident stepped outside its box and dared to reinvent itself, using what it has learned in order to take its audience on a new, intriguing journey.
Thatís not to say that Untying the Not is a flawless effort. There are moments when The String Cheese Incident leans a little too much upon its old ways, its lyrics and melodies occasionally feeling a little coerced. Dark Side of the Moon it is not. But it is an ambitious project ó one that will force those who have dismissed the group as "just another jam band" to start paying attention, one that separates the men from the boys and hopefully will pull the jam band scene itself out of its interminable stagnation.
Untying the Not is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2006 The Music Box