Soundsystem – 311



Capricorn Records


So tonight I’ll be reviewing one of my favorite bands, so expect it to be a little skewed.  Nick Hexum, S.A. Martinez, P-Nut (Aaron Wills), Tim Mahoney and Chad Sexton, collectively known as 311, have been around for awhile now.  Over 20 years, in fact (At least Hexum, P-Nut, and Sexton have) and each album has been slightly different, while still staying true to their core sound.  Tonight, I won’t be talking about newer albums Don’t Tread on Me or Uplifter, both of which have been criticized as being too mainstream and poppy.  I won’t be talking about the band’s epic masterpiece, Transistor.  Hell, I won’t even be talking about Music, my favorite album, or any of their extremely early albums (Hydroponic, Dammit, and Unity).  So that narrows it down a bit, but tonight, it will be Soundsystem up for review.

So the album starts off with a kickass track with an intro that’s so good, the band uses it as an intro when they’re on tour.  “Freeze Time” has an awesome sound that really lets you know you’re in the mood for a kickass time on this album.  Hexum and S.A. interchange their vocals as well on this song as in any other track, P-Nut’s bassline keeps the rhythm alive, Mahoney’s guitar work really is rockin’, and Sexton on drums seconds that heavy rock attitude.

“Come Original” is a really fun song, and has one of the most signature 311 sounds on the album.  It’s a classic mix of funk, rock, and dub all mixed up (see what I did there?) into one track.  Although, they call it ‘funk-slap bass mixed with the dancehall, and hip-hop beats, and punk guitar, and deadly on the mic is one S.A.’.  The band takes shots at the modern music industry, and how the artists are so unoriginal.  This sentiment is as true today as it was back in 1999.  Martinez has a killer verse during the bridge as usual, and when he and Hexum go into harmony (I guess you could call it that), they can’t be beat.  This track really keeps the party that is this album going.

“Large in the Margin” steps up to the plate next, and the guys keep the good times rolling (shitty mixed metaphors are my specialty).  Mahoney and Sexton continue to be perfect in their quest to keep the heavy background up on the album.  This track proves that they have no intention of stopping anytime soon on the album.

“Flowing” was one of the first 311 songs I heard, and really was the one that pulled me into them.  Hexum takes over the mic almost exclusively here, and he really shows that in another situation, he could be the lead man.  “Flowing” has a sound that’s as catchy as the common cold, with none of the negative effects (think “I Turn My Camera On” by Spoon… that’s what I’m getting at).  Anyways, this track really has a sound that I could listen to for awhile on repeat and not get tired of it.

“Can’t Fade Me” feels like a battle between Nick and S.A. over the mic.  They interact flawlessly here, and do a fabulous job.  S.A. on the turntables really delivers on this track.  He does quite a bit, but on this track it’s really prevalent.  The one thing about this song that sticks with me is that it’s short, but it feels like it’s over even faster than it is.  I’m not sure if it’s good or bad because, on one hand, I’d like to hear more, but I feel like if it went on too long, it could be bad.  So I’ll just be happy with this compromise and move on.

So we finally get a slow mellow song, and we’re just about halfway through the album.  Everyone’s gotta take a break sometime, right?  Well, “Life’s Not a Race” is a feel-good, mellow-out tune with a good message.  The awesome guitar work by Mahoney here is the standout.  He really steps it up with a sound I can’t get enough of early on, then returns with two even better solos later on.  The solos sound a whole lot like Carlos Santana, and it isn’t the only time that Mahoney sounds like he’s channeling Santana.  Hexum and Martinez pick it up in the second half, with more rap-like verses, and the song eventually turns into somewhat of a free-for-all that sounds fantastic.

“Strong All Along” is a song about being how you feel you are.  They talk about how you should be true to your own self, and they say how they give respect to everyone from coast to coast who does this.  The whole song has an overall upbeat sound, and does it rather simply.  There’s nothing wrong with that, however, as 311 shows that they don’t need intricacies to make a fantastic track.

“Sever” gets back to being somewhat heavy, but with held, mellow vocals.  At least until S.A. busts out, and Hexum follows his lead a bit.  Nick doesn’t bust it out like he has on other tracks, but still takes a break from the sound of the choruses.  “Sever” is a song that you can either rock out to, or chill out to.  The two contrasting styles mesh well here, making for essentially a dual track.

“Eons” is somewhat of a touchy subject to me.  I’m not one to normally say this, but I really am not a huge fan of this song.  Something about Hexum’s vocals here, normally strong, are lacking to me.  I think that had they gone in a different direction with the choruses, the song could be better.  This is such a weird thing for me to do, saying that I don’t like a 311 song, so I’ll just leave it at that and move on to the best song on the album.

Yes, here it is, the best song.  “Evolution” really has a sound that makes me want to dance like an idiot and get openly ridiculed.  Also, the lyrics are really cool to me.  The whole song is about technology and how humans will keep evolving the world around them via their technological breakthroughs.  Going on, they say we should not fear the change, but rather welcome it, as long as we understand it, and use it for good.  Hexum also says how people have been valuing material stuff like platinum and gold, instead of mastering useful things like silicon to perfect technologies.  If only the world had listened, maybe we’d be in the future with flying cars and cool shit like that.  Oh well, maybe in another 11 years.  Here’s hoping.

“Leaving Babylon” is the requisite dub/reggae sound song on the album.  P-Nut really delivers that attitude with his smooth bass here.  Again, a song that’s so simple, but really sets a strong mood.  This is a really good, mellow song that makes you analyze the lyrics.  Rather than injecting my own opinions on the words here, like I all too often do, I’ll leave that to your own devices.

“Mindspin” is 311 coming back with a vengeance.  They are done fucking around and it is now time to kick some ass.  They waste no time at all, and Hexum and Martinez really have strong work together through the verses and choruses, both.  In fact, everyone is on point here, delivering a balls-to-the-wall tune.  But then it disappears into a mellow fade that feels like the album ending.

But, alas, it is not!  We still have one of the best songs on the album left.  “Livin’ & Rockin'” has an intro that lets you know you’re about to get catapulted into something good.  Nick explodes out on the mic after Mahoney’s interjection.  P-Nut intensely keeps it rolling with Sexton keeping everyone in check.  Martinez slows it down ever so slightly from Hexum, but after the first chorus, he takes the fast part, with Hexum taking the slow part.  Everything spirals into an abrupt ending that I honestly didn’t see coming the first time.

So there you have it, at length and I am sorry for that, Soundsystem.  Not my favorite 311 album, but a serious, rockin’ good time.  The album plays faster than it actually is, which can either be a good or bad thing, depending on how you look at it.  Still, it’s definitely a very good album, even if you aren’t as big into 311 as I am.

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