With the possible exception of those four Kittie cats, Incubus will probably emerge as the only breakout act from this year's Ozzfest. That's more of an accomplishment than originally thought, since the California-based quintet sounds slightly off-kilter in a land occupied by mooks. The band's sophomore (and rapidly approaching platinum) CD, Make Yourself, has set in motion the release of When Incubus Attacks! Vol. 1, the ambitiously titled debut EP in a planned series of live/acoustic/unreleased material. So it only makes sense to look at the two together, particularly since many of the former's sales have come relatively recently.

Make Yourself is by far the superior effort, a record that jumps from the speakers -- and speaks to the listener. Tired of whiny mopesters and citizens of Prozac Nation? Singer Brandon Boyd (whose vocal clarity is refreshing) exhorts you to pick yourself up and do something with your life. Think of it like this: While Counting Crows and Smashing Pumpkins fans lie around the house and whine, Incubus listeners are reading self-improvement books. The kick-off cut, "Privilege" (about that esoteric value, free will), rocks with a meaty authority and has lyrical substance. "When It Comes" and the title track are infused with an urgency courtesy of guitarist Mike Einziger, drummer José Pasillas and bassist Dirk Lance. Each of these tunes is a carefully constructed mesh of shifting rhythms, power guitar and turntable scratching (the last, tastefully restrained -- most of the time -- by DJ Chris Kilmore). And while these are the record's strongest efforts, other numbers steeped in acoustic and drum 'n' bass are at least not weak. "Clean" speaks with brutal honesty about a troubled relationship ("I need a map of your head / Translated into English / So I can learn not to make you frown") and extols the virtues of straight talk between boy and girl without masked meanings and hidden agendas.

When Incubus Attacks! Vol. 1, while an interesting hodgepodge of material, remains a buy for the already converted. An acoustic version of "Pardon Me," the band's defiant breakthrough hit on Make Yourself, gets transformed into a plaintive tune with no loss of impact. A similar take on "Stellar" far exceeds its louder version, while "Crowded Elevator," a strong-sounding cut from the Make Yourself sessions that appeared on the Scream 3 soundtrack, is no mere castoff. A new take on "Make Yourself" and a live version of "Pardon Me," however, seem superfluous and smack of overkill. And "Favorite Things" won't rank as anyone's favorite thing.

Incubus is one of rock's more interesting new bands precisely because its brushes are dipped in so many different palettes. And the thought of a neo-metal band packing turntables with its guitar gear, while radical enough to make even Ozzy cry blasphemy only a few years ago, is a natural extension of hip-hop's influence on millennial sounds.

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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero