There’s a pretty strong argument to contest that Incubus frontman Brandon Boyd is the James Franco of the music industry. Not only is he a consummate professional at his day job but behind the scenes, partakes in an almost unbelievable laundry list of extra-curricular activities: Artist, avid surfer, author and humanitarian just to name a few. Coupled with that annoying, impossibly handsome Californian glow that seems to follow him wherever he goes (See? Totally Franco right!), Boyd has made great use of his Incubus downtime since 2011’s If Not Now, When? to form Sons of the Sea whose self-titled debut drops in the UK on February 28th. To draw an Australian comparison: If you think of Brandon Boyd as Ian Kenney, then Incubus is his Karnivool and Sons of the Sea might be his Birds of Tokyo.
From the beginning, it’s pretty obvious that this is definitely a record by “That Incubus Guy” but over the course of this ten-track set it becomes apparent that he has some different ideas to try out. Starting out with Jet Black Crow – something that could’ve easily come out of Incubus’ Morning View sessions – it makes you wonder if the choice to open this album with a familiar feel was a deliberate one. Next up is Space and Time, a vaguely prog-rock experiment (complete with Brian May guitar harmonies) based on a shuffle groove – usually reserved for country music or ‘80s anthems. However it actually really works when cast against the dirge-y half-time middle 8 and let’s be honest, pretty much anything goes underneath Brandon’s majestic soaring tenor.
While a couple of songs – like breezy strummer Plus/Minus – reek pretty strongly of the early-‘00s MTV Unplugged scene Boyd nailed with his other band, the claps/gang vocals give it as much indie charm as you’d be able to get with a budget that extends to hiring longtime Incubus producer Brendan O’Brien. That being said, O’Brien’s stellar reputation as one of the preeminent rock producers on the planet (Pearl Jam, Bruce Springsteen and maaaaany more) is only reinforced here on Sons of the Sea with just the right amount of textural sound and layering to not get in the way of the songs. It’s kinda his bag…
Bouncy lead single Come Together (No, it’s not a cover of THAT Come Together) sounds like a beefed up roller-disco starring Maroon 5 at their grittiest whereas climactic piano ballad Avalanche could very easily have been pulled from the latest Broadway smash – I mean, you can totally picture Neil Patrick Harris singing it with sillier lyrics to rapturous applause at this year’s Tony Awards.
One of the record’s highlights is definitely the beautiful Where All The Songs Come From. Some corny lines aside (“On the wings/Of a butterfly evening”) it manages to sound mysterious and memorable at the same time. It’s a strong chorus about accepting the path you’ve chosen and the huge “Da-da-dada-da” chorale that fades the song to a close sounds like the Eagles or America at the peak of their game: California strong. The record ends with Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye, which is quite possibly what you’d get if you put a Bee Gee in a room with Arcade Fire to see what happened. That’s not intended to be an off-putting proposition.
It seems like the intended purpose of this record is to show that Brandon Boyd likes to wear a lot of hats and to that end, sometimes it just sounds like a collection of ideas he and the band wanted to try ending in varying levels of success. That being said, hats off for ambition and if we’re sticking to this Franco comparison, whatever calamitous adventure is next for Brandon Boyd, he’ll surely kill it.