The trademark 311 rap-rock sound, unwavering on the band’s latest release, From Chaos, blasted through my Brooklyn apartment’s shaky speakers for approximately two minutes. Enough. The whiny white boy rap, almost funky bass lines, and grinding guitar riffs just couldn’t hold up in a city that offers so much innovative hip-hop and truly vital rock. The CD was slipped back into its trippy computerized cover and shoved under the bed.
Two weeks later, I watched from my bedroom window as the World Trade Center fell. New York crumbled into its own chaos and I knew it was time for a vacation. So I jumped on a train to Omaha, Nebraska, home of my parents and 311.
Driving down Dodge Street, past the clean sidewalks, the big oak trees, and the towering fast food signs, past King Kong’s Gyros, the Crossroads mall, and the Ranch Bowl (where I first heard 311 play in 1993), From Chaos finally felt appropriate. Suddenly Nick Hexum’s ooey-gooey vocals sounded invigorating and P-nut’s grumbling bass got me doing the car-seat groove like I was in 9th grade again. And the title track’s lyrics “from chaos comes clarity” couldn’t have made more sense. An album designed for cruising around middle America, 311’s newest is good comfort food, ranking up there with King Kong’s soggy steak fries.
But like those fries, the album’s initial yummy flavor just ends up in a knotted stomach. Even its hometown loveliness can’t override the fact that From Chaos is flat and uneventful, and could easily be swapped with Grassroots or Transistor without a kid in the car noticing. 311 found a formula that worked in ‘92 and just stuck with it, as a dozen other rap-rockers zipped right past them. The band seems vaguely aware of this as S.A. raps, “Makin that hybrid music back in ‘90 now it’s on ya / I hear we were the model for the band you front we spawned ya”. 311 did inspire a wave of genre-bending musicians, but with ridiculous lyrics like “Listen to the drummer just listen to the strings / Listen to the DJ just rappin and things”, they have no hopes of keeping up with a style that is slowly dying out anyways.
The strongest songs are those that break out of the head-banging funk mold. The Euro-trash lounge pop of “Champagne” goes down smooth and bubbly, perfect for chillin’ by a pool or a bit of subway escapism. “Amber” is all dreamy surfer boy strummings, complicated by delays and airy effects. Still, the hippy-dippy lyrics “Amber is the color of your energy”, are quaint at best.
Of course 311 does appeal to a certain 13 to 18-year-old demographic, and songs like “Wake Your Mind Up” serve as a mantra for bored, disenchanted teenage masses. From Chaos‘s combination of blissful vibes and aggressive grooves certainly propel me back to high school. And that is the only reason this album is enjoyable. For anyone who isn’t from Omaha and already owns at least one 311 album, there is no reason to purchase From Chaos. Otherwise, 311’s latest is a good introduction to the mellow roads of Omaha, and the roots of rap-rock.
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// Notes from the Road
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