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Umphrey's McGee

Article Published: Nov. 11, 2010 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
Umphrey's McGee

Since the founding of online music-sharing service Napster in 1999, the music industry has been skipping like a bad needle on a scratched record.

More than 10 years later, the business is still flopping around like a fish out of water, and there are just a few gasps left. Bands now have to come up with more innovative ways of reaching an audience without the help of the corporate sector.

Enter Umphrey's McGee. The Chicago-based sextet released its latest album, Mantis, in January 2010 in an inventive way. Like Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails, Umphrey's McGee is taking the high road to the traditional way of doing things in the music industry. In the months leading up to Mantis, the band released nine levels of bonus material each time a pre-order benchmark was reached. Overall, fans who purchased Mantis received more than 70 free items from UM.

Umphrey's McGee have given away a massive amount of music in their 10 years together. Like the Grateful Dead, The band allows fans to tape and trade its live recordings freely. More recently, they've provided complimentary tickets to fans who agree to distribute the recordings. Also, since 2005, the group has provided free podcasts with highlights from live shows.

In addition to their fan interaction, Umphrey's McGee share another similarity with The Dead: improvisation. Each show the band plays is unique with material being tried out for the first time and new variations to known songs. The band carried the creative force used on the stage into the studio for Mantis.

UM spent 20 months recording Mantis. The album contains songs never before played at their live shows, a testament to the members' ability to continually cultivate fresh and abundant ear fruit for their audience. Umphrey's McGree affirm they can do quantity without sacrificing quality.

Some may assume since because they've been compared with the Grateful Dead, Umphrey's McGee is just another jam band. Yes, they do put on extensive jams, but UM is much better likened to progressive rock than anything else.

Umphrey's McGee's sound is steeped in the psychedelia of Pink Floyd and Yes, the eccentricity of King Crimson and early Genesis, and the heaviness of Iron Maiden and Dream Theater. Despite their influences, Umphrey's McGee has a unique flavor all its own on Mantis.

At more than 11 minutes, the title track of Mantis it is laden with many musical interludes, providing an example of the improv style the band is known for. One minute the listener is floating over orchestral-like music, the next banging out to hard-rocking guitar. Somehow, for Umphrey's McGee, it works out to a complete, cohesive piece of work.

If lengthy and strange songs like "Mantis" are too out there, Umphrey's McGee restrains itself a bit better on songs like the catchy opener "Made to Measure" and the bouncy "Red Tape." These two songs could very well get airplay, but are more likely to appear on a college station rather than mainstream radio.

As many teenagers once did, the members of Umphrey's McGee probably spent many hours locked in their bedrooms late at night listening to Dark Side of the Moon. The influence is undeniable on the bookends of "Cemetery Walk." The guys in UM more than likely spent more time studying the theory of Pink Floyd than getting stoned off their gourd and syncing it up to The Wizard of Oz.

Listeners who are not musically open-minded may not like Mantis. If they don't give it an opportunity to sink in, they are surely missing out. Umphrey's McGee is not only reinventing the way it reaches listeners, but also breaking the mold on how music itself is constructed. Few of today's musicians are as intelligent or visionary as Umphrey's McGee.

Find Umphrey's McGee online at

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