A five year leap finds Incubus in a new dimension, their sixth studio album a forefront-placing of inner-recipe artistic drive and an atmospheric embrace decidedly feminine in nature. The album was preceded by a long missive by Boyd, explaining the tidal shift in the band's approach to If Not Now, When?.
"By about three songs into the writing process, I think we began to understand that we were unearthing something new," Boyd shared. "And excitedly, we began chasing that new rabbit as far down, around and into the wormhole as it led us."
He called If Not Now, When? "Our unabashed, romantic, lush, sonic love letter to the world," explaining, "It’s darker, slower, more rich, more refined, and more involved than anything Incubus has birthed to date. This entire time, Incubus has essentially been searching for a sense of balance between all of the possibilities inherent in crafting a song. I do believe that for many years now we have been searching for something different. Something unique, both to the world and to us as a band. We decided that ‘If Not Now, When?’ our 6th full length studio album would be just that."
Unique it is, and certainly different from its catalogue predecessors. There's little chance that it will soothe the turbulent seas of expectation that the band return to their more aggressive roots, and if these fifty beautiful minutes are any indication, those folks may as well pack it in and head elsewhere. What lies in place of the lit path are the jungles of possibility, the result a soundtrack fit for the delicate post-psilocybin
Opening with a beehive symphony of strings and oddity that gives way to an echoing, slow-strum beat and gently pulsing bass, the title track introduces an ethereal, reflective beauty untethered to the buzzscape. "I've waited all my life / If not now when will I?" Brandon asks, before pointing out the core of the modernist dilemma: "Don't you feel like something's missing here?" The soft soul-searching leaves on a demand: "Don't hide your eyes / it's time."
And just like that, Incubus' left-turn promise has been fulfilled.
The piano-driven "Promises, Promises" hints at a Steve Lilywhite contribution, a sentimental soft-popper that will further infuriate the hordes demanding a full-throttle return to the aggression of S.C.I.E.N.C.E. To that, I say: you aint seen nothin' yet.
The gentle reaffirmation of "Friends and Lovers" follows suit on Jose Pasillas' distant-thunder background drums and gentle chord progression, an introspective assessment of love's strength despite the confines of external definers. Rejecting the standard notion of cultural relationship architecture for a more bohemian, borderless establishment of connection, there is a refusal to defend the title of what the two have come to be in unique union.
"What's wrong with you is good for what's wrong with me," Boyd reassures, with a powerfully poetic simplicity that outlines essentially all we can truly ever hope for in finding a partner in life's imperfection. By Brandon's own words, it was his attempt to share a different idea of what modern love might look like, but the core of devotion is a thread immediately relatable when the ego is truly muted.
Damnation comes in deceptive forms at times. Without the lyrical value applied, the melody and instrumentation of "Thieves" is a soul-boosting hand of encouragement. But as the words settle in, as Boyd laments the powers that be "selling us water by the river," the vulture haves circling the have-nots with smiles that serve as "salt in the wound, a slap upon a back that's been toiling in the sun," the picture clears of a protest designed to sweetly suck you in before recoiling with a new mantra a great many of us share at heart: "they don't speak for me at all!"
Guitarist Mike Einzinger's foreboding classical guitar intro to album highlight "Isadore" immediately contrasts the pendulum-slam beat accompaniment, but Boyd's floating melody builds the middleground, the restless soul demanding the fruits of devotion from a runaway love. "I want more than this kite will soar," he croons before the turn, "set our sights on the moon".
"The Original" inspires flutters of concern in the heart of an OG Incubus fan; despite the psychedelic-electro beat rise, why does the saccharine melody call Taylor Swift to mind? What's happening here? With effort, we can lose ourselves in the slow-crashing tide of the song's pinnacle, like the chaotic time displacement that can occur after getting thrown underwater by a strong wave. And there we stay…
We don't surface again until "Defiance" follows with an acoustic blast of sunshine and "oooooh oooh ooooh" falsettos, sharing our sentiment with "You almost had me there!". I kid. But the simple, unplugged delivery holds strong as a palette neutralizer of the album's front half. Nevermind the assault on manicured bohemia and condiment conditions surrounding an insistence that the band return to a sound they carved as they were breaking out of their teens – these are seasoned professionals unapologetically building new horizons, with bizarrely fascinating result.
Some of those horizons reach beyond anyone's expectation, one in particular extending to an alien-groove world with a hard case of industrial-funk-psychedelia dementia. A clean guitar and gentle organ are the devious soothsayers as "In The Company of Wolves" sets in, a far-left-field vocal performance that's more Jeff Buckley than Brandon Boyd, indicating an entirely different set of chemicals in play. "It helps to know serenity from ennui," he breathes, moments before the dark-funk cloud rolls in. Ben Kenney's thudding bass and Chris Kilmore's tinkling keys set the mood for a smooth-crooner slowjam pillowtalk verse, barely above a whisper. Think Mike Patton with a broken heart.
The snap back to familiar air is a quick and dangerous kick-drum knockout by way of "Switch Blade," a slick & buoyant association between his muse and the delicate, deadly weapon of title. It's a great mood setter for the album's penultimate track and first single, the smoothly effervescent Adolescents.
"Tomorrow's Food" closes out If Not Now, When?, a sprawling two-year old existentialist track inspired by the quote from Philosopher Ken Wilbur’s A Brief History Of Everything: “No epoch is finally privileged. We are all tomorrow’s food. The process continues. And spirit is found in the process itself, not in any particular epoch, or time, or place.” The song, with a circular, twinkling guitar riffs and heaven synths rising over a soft beat, is a reminder of our infinitesimally small position in the universe in contrast to the growing pains associated with the massive changes underway in our world.
Boyd explained it best in his own words last month: "What may feel like the end of the world is that humbling moment when you realize that a new set of ideas has usurped your generation’s ideas. Confused and confounded by the “way things are going” you can’t help but think it’s all going to shit, and that you have to fight to defend what you’ve built. But in actuality what is occurring is a necessary evolution. A handing over of the collective baton. If not now, when?"
CraveOnline Rating: 8 out of 10