As ugly of a genre that nu-metal was, there were some bands that could turn it into something enjoyable, damn near beautiful. Incubus was one of those bands.The California-based alt-rockers came at the tail end of nu-metal’s dominance of rock and with that, brought them a hint of grace to their chugging riffs.
Part jam band, part jazz band, part trippy house music, part headbangers, Incubus broke into the mainstream with 1999’s Make Yourself, which focused more on a chilled out atmosphere building between the heavy guitars and rhythm. Songs like “Nowhere Fast,” “Stellar,” “Pardon Me,” and the smash hit “Drive” found the pop melodies and lush sounds in the mixture of rock, rap, and alternative. It also found big success, going double platinum and turning the band into stars. With that success, Incubus decided to keep going and dig deeper into their lush sound.
The result was Morning View, the band’s fourth studio album that turns 15 today. Recorded on the shores of Malibu, the band tested themselves to see how far they were willing to go into ambiance and hazy atmosphere without losing the rocking edge in their system.
Producer Scott Litt (Nirvana, R.E.M.) got that memo, letting guitarist Mike Einziger have as much room as he wants to create spacey sounds and echoing riffs. Einziger combines that with the heavy rock of Incubus past on the punching album opener “Nice to Know You,” along with “Circles,” “Warning,” and “Blood on the Ground.” He and the band have this great back and forth well known to alt rock bands of quiet on the verse and loud on the chorus, a tug of war between searching for sonic grace and all-out rage.
Morning View is definite a light listen, at least for Incubus’ typical audience, with the band letting tracks breathe to set a visual of the misty shores at sunrise depicted on the album cover. “Just a Phase,” “11am,” and “Warning” build up with soft guitars and steady grooves that climax at the chorus with lead singer Brandon Boyd’s sexual vocal delivery. The more tender moments, like the airy love song “Echo” or the jazzy jam “Are You In?” showcase the tight backbeat of bassist Dirk Lance and drummer Jose Pasillas as the band ride the natural grooves they naturally set up. It all coalesces on the hit single, “Wish You Were Here,” a perfect balance of quiet and loud. Einziger’s guitar strokes are at just the right speed and frequency as DJ Chris Kilmore uses record scratches to fill in the background set up by the rhythm section. It’s one of the rare moments that nu metal could be considered legitimate pop, something Incubus have made into a calling card.
Boyd served as chief songwriter for Morning View, and his lyrics perfectly match his tatted up surfer boy looks (“I dig my toes into the sand/The ocean looks like a thousand diamonds strewn across a blue blanket/I lean against the wind/Pretend that I am weightless/And in this moment I am happy”). Boyd has his share of goofy lines as well (“Deeper than the deepest Cousteau would ever go,” “I saw you standing in my headlights [Blink, blink, blink]”). Though at least he can be descriptive and set a scene (“Seven a.m/The garbage truck beeps as it backs up/And I start my day thinking about what I’ve thrown away/Could I push rewind?/The credits traverse signifying the end but I missed the best part/Could we please go back to start?”). Morning View is a fine album showing off the transition from nu metal to alternative and how it can be furthered.