Wednesday, October 13, 1999
Houston, Texas
Volume 65, Issue 37

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About the Cougar

What's the 311?
Diverse band 311 strays from familiar sound on latest CD


Sony Music Entertainment
13 tracks; 46:56

Grade C-

By Jesse Lauritz
Daily Cougar Staff

Growing up in Omaha, Neb., Nick Hexum, Chad Sexton, Timothy Mahoney, "P-Nut" (Aaron Wills) and "SA" (Douglas Martinez) got their start playing in various bands on the local scene, but in 1988 they joined and created 311.

They quickly developed a local following, producing three independent albums: Dammit, Unity and Hydroponic. The band then decided to pack up and leave for California.

Marina Chavez/Capricorn Records

311's sound is a diverse mix of metal, funk, hip-hop, rock and reggae that has lately been over-shadowed by bands like Korn and Lim Bizkit.

In Los Angeles, they met up with Yes producer Eddy Offord, who helped 311 put together a demo tape and send it off to various record labels. Capricorn signed the band and it released its major label debut, Music, in 1993.

311 quickly followed up Music with the album Grassroots in 1994. Then, in 1995, they recorded what is now considered the "blue" album, 311. The self-titled CD exploded onto the scene, placing the Omaha quintet squarely in the modern-rock genre.

The single "Down" reached No. 1 on Billboard's modern rock chart a year after the release of the album. The second single, "All Mixed Up," peaked at No. 2, and the band was on its way to defining the cutting edge of new music with its multiplatinum album.

Riding the success of 311, the band began experimenting and the result was the album Transistor. The album was a major letdown to 311 fans and was met with a lot of critical indifference by critics.

With the rising popularity of rock/rap bands like Limp Bizkit, Korn, Kid Rock and Rage Against the Machine, 311 found the perfect time to release Soundsystem.

But Korn, Limp Bizkit and Kid Rock have stolen the spotlight held throughout the entire '90s by 311.

Soundsystem tries to match 311's roots. The result is hard rock, hip-hop, funk and punk mixed into the rage of nonstop beats.

The problem is that many of 311's melodies disappoint, and sometimes Hexum's vocals are too soft.

Soundsystem is the kind of album you play on a long drive with annoying family members. There is never a point when the music drops, so you can turn up the volume, drown out the outside world and sing along.

The opening track, "Freeze Time," sets the pace for the rest of the album. The metal riffs and squealing guitars shift from ska to funk, then to hip-hop loops.

The first single, "Come Original," showcases a reggae influence in Hexum's vocals, while "Life's Not a Race" has traces of Santana combined with Latin beats.

The overall sound of the album is great. The band's raps, however, are just plain terrible. 311's biggest hits in the past have been mostly vocal-driven, and the best tracks on this album contain no rapping at all.

That isn't to say that the album doesn't have lots of rapping. There is the aggressive rap on "Livin' & Rockin'," plus the upbeat "Strong Along" and the dance-hall flows of "Come Original."

Soundsystem isn't the best album 311 has written, but it is every bit as enjoyable as any of its others. Take out the sound bytes that remind you of Transistor and you have yourself a collection of varied of music.

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