The String Cheese Incident: Outside Inside

Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr

The String Cheese Incident

Outside Inside

Label: SCI Fidelity

Ever since the Grateful Dead cut lousy albums back in the late '60s, reviewers have fallen back on a certain adage: a good live band doesn't always come across in the studio. One pictures a band trapped within the studio walls, forced to capture their live energy with no audience in sight. Many continue to see this as the central dilemma for contemporary jam bands.

The String Cheese Incident hasn't been immune to studio difficulties. While neither Born on the Wrong Planet nor 'Round the Wheel are bad, they're not particularly memorable (neither album, however, is nearly as bad as a late '70s Dead album). At one point, I listened to each of these albums several times and only a couple of songs come to mind now. The problem is, I can't remember too much from Carnival '99 and A String Cheese Incident Live -- the band's two live albums -- either. Ultimately, the problem has less to do with the studio/live fault line than whether one has the ability to craft material that stands out.

On Outside Inside, the String Cheese once again ventures boldly into the studio with a fistful of new songs. The album starts out strong with the funky title track, evoking shades of Little Feat and laying down the gauntlet for all that follows. When the boys delve into Keith Moseley's word rap, "Joyful Sound", the band is chugging along on all cylinders. Kyle Hollingsworth's "Close Your Eyes" qualifies as the catchiest track, with slide guitar setting the mood and piano adding a bit of spunk. The song's upbeat temperament perfectly matches the opener, and when the group's harmony kicks in on the chorus, all the planets line up. In these first fifteen minutes of Outside Inside, the String Cheese Incident not only succeeds, but excels in the studio. The arrangements differ a bit from song to song, keeping things fresh, and guitars, mandolin, and pianos are all carefully stacked to create a full, vital sound. My guess is that these tracks will also sound great live.

The band also offers a lucid vision lyrically, harking back to that golden era of peace, love, and understanding on Outside Inside. The lyrics may be a bit simple, obvious, and overstated, but maybe that's the point. The wordage also offers a bit of optimism, a rare and welcomed commodity.

There are other fine moments on Outside Inside, such as "Lost", another piece of southern-fried funk, and "Up the Canyon", which dips into bluegrass terrain. There is also lots of great acoustic guitar work by Bill Nershi. But the steam pretty much goes out of the album after the third song. While pieces like "Black and White" and "Search" are okay, they're a letdown after the album's glorious opening. At ten minutes, "Rollover" becomes monotonous, while the sluggish "Sing a New Song" never feels as happy as its lyric. Instrumentals like "Drifting" and "Latinissmo" are also pleasant, but like too much contemporary jazz, fail to lodge themselves in one's memory.

Undoubtedly fans will feel differently. They will point out that the String Cheese Incident is not only versatile, but has the ability to hop genres without blinking; that Outside Inside is a good sounding album and probably the band's best studio effort; that most of the songs/instrumentals are good and none of them are really bad; that the thematic unity of Outside Inside makes the album's lyrics more interesting than most of the product out there right now; and finally, that the album would serve as a fine introduction to anyone unfamiliar with the band. To all of these points, I'd have to agree.





Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.


IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.


Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.


NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.


The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.


PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.


David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.