Alongside the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Incubus were the band which turned me onto rock music once and for all when I was about 13 years old. When you’re precociously short, have a really high voice and you’re still hanging out for puberty to hit, having a role model like Brandon Boyd isn’t exactly a bad move. Boyd, all muscles and tattoos, is at once a fantastic rock icon but also a startlingly intelligent anti-hero. On their first record, Fungus Amongus, put out when they were only a few years into their teens themselves, Brandon joked in the liner notes that he was sorry that everybody had to put up with his band doing a bad imitation of early Chili Peppers. Incubus, with their solid backline (well, mainly drumming legend Jose Pasillas III) and guitar whiz Mike Eizenger, have always been a thinking man’s rock band. It just took them a while to get around to realising it, with forays into nu-metal on the ludicrously heavy S.C.I.E.N.C.E, which had them pegged as the answer to Korn and Limp Bizkit, especially given their inclusion of a live DJ who loved to drop samples of power drills and car crashes into their tracks. But right before Y2K hit, Brandon went back to Cali (no, not in the Notorious Biggie style), hung out on the waves, fell in love approximately 23 times and started writing mellower tunes. As it happens, the first experiment was the sleeper hit ‘Drive’, a simple pop tune which catapulted Incubus far beyond their contemporaries despite the fact that it was one of their weakest songs (OK, I loved it too. But now I own their entire back catalogue, and comparatively it doesn’t stand up). Banking on the success of this single, Incubus decided that they’d now go equal parts strength and style, and each of their follow-up records has seen them developing a unique and distinct sound.
When Incubus starting hitting the big time, they also started attracting a much wider fanbase, notably females who suddenly realised that Brandon was the new millenium’s answer to Jim Morrison. Accordingly, their best received album, Morning View, catered to both sides, with crunching numbers like ‘Circles’ perfectly contrasted by the beach-pop perfection of ‘Are You In?’ and ‘Echoes’. I highly recommend you get yourself a copy of this album; it’s the right place to start if you’ve never heard Incubus before and will show you the dual nature of this band’s performance. In retrospect, one could see this almost as Incubus’ Jack Johnson record, a great companion to chilling out on the sand with the waves rolling in. Except Jack Johnson is as exciting as a plank of wood with stage fright, so I’ll leave you to make the call yourselves. In any case, with an album of great tracks under their belt and lots of label support, guitarist Mike decided that the band should do something really whack to finish the CD, like, uh, a japanese meditation song which goes for 6 minutes?
Do not laugh, because this is what ‘Aqueous Transmission’ is all about. Eizenger allegedly went over to his friend (and guitar prodigy) Steve Vai’s house, and asked him if he could borrow his ‘pipa’, otherwise known as a Chinese string instrument that emits cool Oriental sounds. Vai obliged, and Eizenger came up with this four bar progression which eventually blossomed into the ultimate relaxation song, complete with Brandon sighing about ‘floating down a river’, Jose rocking the finger-cymbals and Bjork’s favourite string arranger Suzi Katayama, adding in some sweeping violins. All in all, I find it very hard to stay awake for the whole of this song, especially during the night time hours. It absolutely leaves Ministry Of Sound’s Chillout Sessions for dead, and if you ever develop insomnia, this does the trick far better than sleeping pills. Mostly I wanted to include this because it really is a revolutionary idea, especially from a band who have roots in rap, metal and pop-punk. The problem is that Incubus’ latest effort manages to make a whole album sound like this song, which isn’t cool. There’s a time and a place for lulling pretty girls to sleep, but not all the time. Play this song, I doubt you’ve ever heard anything like it from a mainstream American band!
Incubus – ‘Aqueous Transmission’