Umphrey's McGee – it's not us album review

Diverse musical menu on US jam band’s eleventh studio album.


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Since forming around 20 years ago at university in Indiana, Umphrey’s McGee have built up an enviable and enthralling back catalogue. From the excellent 2004 release Anchor Drops to the mash-up madness of Zonkey, and the many, many, many live releases, the proggy jam band have just about covered all bases. Their trademark sound pivots on a foundation of free-flowing, unrestrained creativity that’s topped off with an unfaltering stream of ear-pleasing melody, and the US rockers’ latest effort comes in the form of it’s not us, their eleventh studio album.

Its PR blurb promises an adventure through a diverse array of styles and it just about gets the job done, with prog, rock, metal, pop, funk and jazz all referenced at some point over the 11 tracks. It gets off to a rather inconspicuous start, however, with opener The Silent Type a less-than-four- minute pop rock number which won’t tick too many boxes for fervent prog-heads. Thankfully the rest of it’s not us isn’t quite so limp, with Whistle Kids a groove-laden, hazy kick- back and Maybe Someday juggling nods to the likes of Rush and Soundgarden.

The record’s centrepiece is the seven-minute Remind Me, which opens with some funk and disco-flavoured merriment before dissolving into an instrumental attack featuring a bludgeoning Dream Theater-esque riff with haunting keyboards slathered over the top. It’s impressive and compelling stuff, and it’s hard to believe it’s coming from the same band that devised the album opener, or the following You & You Alone, a cosy acoustic love song serenade. Elsewhere, there truly is a bit of everything to chew on; Speak Up showcases some slithering jazz licks and saxophone courtesy of Joshua Redman, Forks is an 80s romp and the brooding Dark Brush wouldn’t sound too out of place on a latter-day Porcupine Tree record.

A big part of Umphrey’s McGee’s magic is their love of going off on tangents with gusto – check out some of the track times of their live releases for an indication of their hell- bent adventurism – and on the whole it’s not us feels almost a little too concise and considered, but at least that should help to ensnare any new listeners who have yet to step into the Umphrey world. And what about the seasoned listener? The album isn’t breaking any new ground, nor is it likely to be considered their best, but it’s most certainly deserving of attention and it provides another glimpse into what makes Umphrey’s McGee such an intriguing and special entity – even after two decades. A deluxe version contains a book, double vinyl, bonus 7-inch and Augmented Reality element.

Chris Cope

A writer for Prog magazine since 2014, armed with a particular taste for the darker side of rock. The dayjob is local news, so writing about the music on the side keeps things exciting - especially when Chris is based in the wild norths of Scotland. Previous bylines include national newspapers and magazines.