Umphrey’s McGee could not have picked a better time to release their eighth LP, Similar Skin. After years of literally playing all night at perhaps the best festival for jamming in existence, Bonnaroo, the band will be taking the main stage. Now they’ve got a few new tunes to really get the fans going. With Similar Skin, that’s exactly the modus operandi of Umphrey’s McGee.
Most tracks are fairly swift and easily accessible. Opener “The Linear” clocks in at just under four minutes and has the type of earth-shattering breakdowns that immediately hook you. Umphrey’s McGee’s signature progressive bent holds true throughout, proving that the band can tackle short and sweet as easily as they can elongate tracks into infinity. A lot of influences are heaped into a surprisingly cogent burst of sonic glee. Umphrey’s McGee wax poetically on the power chord-centric heavy metal outfits they cite just as easily as prog rockers like Rush and the ultimate experimentalist Frank Zappa. “Cut the Cable” may stand as the most straightforward metal track, its harmonies the only idiosyncratic point of contention. “Little Gift” brings with it a similarly sinister groove, upping the arpeggios but still zeroing on hard and heavy rock.
Compared to its less than focused predecessor, Similar Skin follows a musical narrative as tightly as its players stick to their harmonies and tempo. Jam bands tend to get a bad rap as vapid, noodling hippies but Umphrey’s McGee is clearly looking to change that stereotype in part by broadening their brushstrokes with an ever-expanding palette.
The epic nine minute closer “Bridgeless” may start off as an exercise in precision but once an interplay between guitar and bass is firmly established at the one minute mark and frontman Brendan Bayliss’ vocals hit the mic soon after, all bets are off. Umphrey’s McGee are tighter than ever and unafraid to present exactly what they’ve been dying to make: the distillation of their live shows, musical upbringing and a sense of bigger things to come.