New album from 311 takes listeners on a journey

Back in the day, mid-90s, I swam for Middletown High School on the most rockin’ swim team ever. We watched Monty Python movies while eating spaghetti the night before big meets. We also listened to loud music on the school bus while driving around Delaware. Come to think of it, I bet waterproof phones and ear buds would have been bought up by the dozens, but in practice only. Weighing yourself down during a meet would be frowned upon. 

Sublime and 311 were frequently played in the shuffled tunes, mixed in with some Dave Matthews Band from time to time. I’m sure I’m missing other MHS swim team classics from the 90s, but these are the ones which always remind me of the good ol’ days.

311 is an Omaha police code for indecent exposure

311 has also been a band for 30+ years, yep, doesn’t that make you feel old? They’ve been recorded on a myriad of record labels, including their own label. More recently, in 2015, the band began collaborating with brewing companies, Nebraska Brewing Company and Rock Brother Brewing, on 311 Amber Ale. #yum 

Currently 311 members include: Nick Hexum, Aaron “P-Nut” Wills, and Chad Sexton, all of whom have been part of the crew since the very beginning in 1988. Tim Mahoney joined the band in 1991, and Doug “SA” Martinez just a year later in 1992. They’ve released 13 studio albums, with the most recent, Voyager, having been released earlier this month. Singles you might remember from the MHS swim team days are “Transistor,” ‘Beautiful Disaster,” “All Mixed Up,” and “Down.” All of which absolutely rock and should be in your current rotations, they’ll never go out of style. NEVAH!

So, what’s their music like?

It’s hard to describe. They really are a mashup of ska, reggae, hip hop, and rock. I bet if you research them across music blogs, news platforms, or charts, they’ll be labeled a variety of different genres. The genre mashup is brilliant, but I think they get less airtime because they are truly so difficult to define. Their latest album has more of a pop feel to it, which I’m hoping means it will do better beyond their typical fan base. That aside, calm down, I still think the 311 lifers will enjoy the album. You’re gonna want it, maybe even on vinyl.

The explanation for any differences? I think it is because the band is older now. They have different life experiences, kids, families, I think those things naturally change an artist’s perspective.

Voyager

The album artwork was created by UK artist Sam Williams with MagicTorch.
The album artwork was created by UK artist Sam Williams with MagicTorch.

90s kids unite, because this album has several tracks produced by Scotch Ralston, and yes, that is the same Ralston who produced Transitor back in the day. There are also four tracks produced by John Feldmann, the lead singer of the band Goldfinger. As their 13th studio album, there are also 13 tracks, I doubt that was done on purpose, but since 13 is my lucky number I’m including the fun fact. Despite the poppy songs, I do want you to know there is a nice mix of hip hop, rock, and reggae too.

Earlier this spring, three singles released for Voyager to tease out the new album; “Good Feeling,” “Don’t You Worry,” and “Crossfire.” Through the grapevine, there has been some drama behind “Crossfire,” because folks feel they ripped off Noisestorm. I’d rather not get into that though. If it were me, I would not have chosen these as the singles. They are not my favorites on the album, but we’ll get into that in the breakdown. 

As a complete album, you can tell the band worked to make it less dark than albums from the past. It’s relatable and more accessible to a broader range of listeners. I think you’ll find yourself bobbing your head, tapping your feet, and totally getting your own kind of special groove on.

Alright, let me break it down

If you’d like to hear the rock, pop, chill side of 311, then turn up “Don’t You Worry.” It’s not my favorite track, but as a single, it seems to have gained some traction. Same with “Good Feeling,” which is another single they released. I mean, it is bouncy and playful, I like the song, but it’s not 311. You won’t be surprised that this one was produced by Feldmann. Honestly, based on the April singles, I bet a lot of 311 fans were unsure about Voyager, but the mix of songs really does work. This is truly a solid album. I promise!

One thing to note is that you can tell the band and producers paid a great deal of attention to setting up transitions throughout the album. It was mixed by Grammy winner Neal Avron (Weezer, Twenty One Pilots, Linkin Park). As a fan there were times when I was like, “Ugh, why, why did you do this?” but then I kept listening and the next song would reel me back in. Which, yes, means there were some songs I would now skip in a second album listen.

Hardcore fans, you’re probably going to want to turn up “Space and Time,” it is awesome sauce. Some great rifts and bass in the track. So good! It is by far my favorite track on the album.

But all I need
Is a little space and time for my mind
Yeah, all I need
Is a little space and time
To get right back to who I came to

Something very un-311 is “Stainless.”

For the first 60-seconds, it feels like you’re listening to a completely different band, but trust me, just wait for it. I think you’ll get hooked to this vibe.

I don’t wanna die, just give me six
Six more lives ’til I feel equipped
Take the names of the sycophants
Smash their dreams into little bits

Those of you looking for a harmonizing duet between “SA” and Hexum, tune into “Dream State.” Admittedly, it is sweet, they sound amazing together. It’s a good song, not great, but good.

“What The?!” is one of the most underrated tracks thus far, not so much the lyrics of the song (with its stoner references), but the structure, sound, and music make me smile. It’s a favorite of Hexum, who says “This one is super fun to play live with lots of tasty riffs from the mind of Tim Mahoney.” It’s also a great segue into “Better Space” which is another fantastic track. It’s in the top 3 favorites for me.

Dodging Raindrops

I do like “Dodging Raindrops,” and this one is because of the lyrics, but it’s not a fan favorite. It’s another track which starts out feeling very un-311, but the reggae vibe eases in as the song goes on. I’ve read that many fans of this track enjoy it because they relate to it from an “emotional health” or “brain health” perspective. I appreciate the realness of the lyrics. However, they are very similar to lyrics in “Lucid Dreams,” and I kind of wish they had dropped one of these tracks or paid more attention to how similar they came out. 

Running away from my past
It’s pushin’ me out of my zone
Pullin’ me under the gun, into the unknown

Finishing Up

“Born to Live” is a great one. The music isn’t super 311 sounding, but the lyrics are meaningful – although I’ll admit, the side bar from Nick was kind of lame. Sorry, I know it was meant to be sweet, but it just didn’t work for me. I’ve heard this is a favorite for a lot of people, but I think it is a little bit piece-mealed together, and all over the place.

After “Born to Live,” you’ll transition into “Charge It Up.” You’ll feel the 311 vibes again. In addition to “Space and Time,” which I wrote about further up the page, this track is another album favorite for me. I wish the album had ended with “Charge It Up” instead of “Lucid Dream,” but I think they wanted to tie together the sort of “brain health” theme to the album. 

My Top 3

  1. Space and Time
  2. Charge It Up
  3. Better Space

Voyager released July 12. It is 45 minutes long-ish and worth a listen, many thanks to BD for the suggestion.