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Untying the Not

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Album Review

After releasing a mammoth 40 live recordings from their 2002 tour, String Cheese Incident is back in the studio with easily the finest moment they have ever committed to tape in this environment. On Untying the Not, SCI erases the perception that the only thing they are capable of as a band is playing long, wonderfully intricate, transcendent jams rooted in songs in a live setting. SCI are also fine songwriters, and virtually everything here attests to the fact that they have attained not only new inner wisdom as a band when it comes to writing tunes, but in recording them as well. The gorgeous, warm, gooey, organic, and spacious sound producer Youth (yes, formerly of Killing Joke and formerly known as Martin Glover) weaves around the band's compositions updates its sounds without artifice or gimmick. Contrast two of the five instrumentals (all sequenced in a row, bridging the album's two themes from search to acceptance), the futuristic, deep-space, jazzy funk of "Mountain Girl," with the Appalachian balladry of "Elijah," where Michael Kang's strings and Kyle Hollingsworth intertwine intimately, becoming a kind of modern day Stephen Foster melody rooted in the grain of the land itself. On the vocal cuts, Billy Nershi's "Wake Up" is one of the more poetic and sophisticated lyrics out there, as he offers a practical view of everyday awareness of not only oneself but one's surroundings. It's a Zen track for an un-Zen time. The crunchy guitars and Rhodes piano as they contrast with the Wurlitzer and funky backbeat underscored by Keith Moseley's bass are positively infectious. Elsewhere, such as on the two collaborations with futuristic visionary John Perry Barlow, though, syncopated rock bends into droning sonics in overdrive as the lyric offers yet another view of awakening. "Just Passin' Through" uses Indian percussion and ambient guitarscapes to coax an acoustic into the fore where words about the transitory nature of life and how it exists in the body like a bubble in water are both tender and poetic. Ultimately, Untying the Not, is a deeply spiritual record. From its opening tracks to the tough, visionary, instrumentals to the economically rendered lyrics that stand on their own as poetry to the stunning inner poster by artist Alex Gray, it points to a moving and reflective stance on everyday life. It's interesting that this entire disc feels like it was influenced by Richard Linklater's film Waking Life. Untying the Not is a stream of white light making its way into the darkened corner that has become our culture. Full of possibility, fascination, delight, and stunningly beautiful music, this is arguably the defining moment — thus far — in SCI's catalog, live or studio.


Formed: 1993 in Boulder, CO

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

The bluegrass-based jam band the String Cheese Incident comprises mandolinist/violinist Michael Kang, guitarist Bill Nershi, bassist Keith Moseley, pianist Kyle Hollingsworth, and percussionists Jason Hann and Michael Travis. Formed in Boulder, Colorado in 1993, the group's self-described "sacrilegious mix of bluegrass, calypso, salsa, Afro-pop, funk, rock, and jazz" quickly built up a following on the local club circuit, and within six months of their formation they earned an invitation to open...
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Untying the Not, The String Cheese Incident
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