It’s amazing what a little visual perspective can do for a band. While many of the 90’s Alt-Rock and nu-metal scene were sledging away in the studio, Incubus decided to create an environment most conducive to the music they wanted to create. The band decided to live in a large, spacious house in Malibu, California. This would be the last record made with bassist Alex “Dirk” Katunich, and he described in interviews that the band, “tried to do that for at least the writing portion of Make Yourself, but we didn’t have enough clout at the time. The idea was to not feel as if you were driving [somewhere] to work on a record. You could just get up and it was a natural extension of your day.” Vocalist Brandon Boyd shared that sentiment in other ways by saying, “every time we’d pull into the street we had the view of the ocean and Pacific Coast Highway. I got a big creative boner every time I’d show up to the house.” And from that, Incubus would give birth to the record now known as Morning View. If Make Yourself was an introduction to the sound that the band would start to round out their repertoire for their career, Morning View was them becoming true artists in every sense of the word.
The album opens with the second single released from the record, called “Nice To Know You,” that has everything we have come to expect from the California rockers: ambient sounds, rich and layered guitars, and Boyd’s trademark vocals that can reach their lofty intentions. In the chorus, Boyd describes his point of view by saying, “I haven’t felt the way I feel today / In so long it’s hard for me to specify / I’m beginning to notice / How much this feels like a waking limb / Pins and needles, nice to know you,” before exploding into the repeated words. In many ways, this song feels like an awakening of the band coming to terms with the sound they wanted to create for these sessions.
”Circles” is largely built around the riff from one of my favorite guitarists, Mike Einziger, and the song features some great contextual starts and stops, and tempo changes to further round out the song. “Wish You Were Here” is still one of the biggest and best songs Incubus has written to date, and encapsulates the feeling of a starry night at the beach. It’s really hard not to picture Boyd’s point of view as he croons, “I lay my head onto the sand / The sky resembles a back-lit canopy with holes punched in it / I’m counting UFOs, I signal them with my lighter / And in this moment I am happy, happy.” It features everything we’ve come to expect from an Incubus single, right down to the massive sing-a-long chorus.
Some of the more experimental songs like “Just a Phase,” and “11 AM” appear to be a direct reflection of the atmosphere the band surrounded themselves with in this ocean front property. The slow build tease on “Just a Phase” still hits as hard as it was intended to, while “11 AM” finds Boyd at his most reflective as he contemplates, “Eleven A.M. / By now you would think that I would be up / But my bed sheets shade the heat of choices I’ve made / And what did I find? / I never thought I could want someone so much / ‘Cause now you’re not here and I’m knee deep in that old fear.” His insecurities are what makes him human, he just has better abs and a more supersonic voice than most of his Alt Rock counterparts.
The middle of record never sags under its own weight, especially with songs like the abrasive “Blood on the Ground,” and the almost-purely acoustic ballad “Mexico.” Things reach their creative peak on one of my all-time favorite Incubus songs with “Warning.” It features one of the band’s most well-thought out bridges of, “Floating in this cosmic Jacuzzi / We are like frogs oblivious to the water starting to boil / No one flinches, we all float face down,” before exploding back into the chorus. Not enough has been written about just how talented this collective group of musicians truly are, and it’s only fitting that in the latter stages of their careers they would take on other creative side projects.
”Echo” is one of the most heartfelt songs the band has on Morning View, and producer Scott Litt really trusts the performance from Incubus throughout this track. The second verse of, “There’s something about the way you move / I see your mouth in slow motion when you sing / More subtle than something someone contrives / Your movements echo that I’ve seen the real thing,” is pure magic, and it still takes my breath away reading back these incredibly well thought out lyrics.
More abrasive and brazen songs like “Have You Ever” are the closest we get to the sound that the aggressive sound Incubus went with in the early stages of their career, and yet the song never feels out of place in the context of this record. Things take a dramatic turn towards the better with the closing trio of the sexy “Are You In?” the electronic-tinged “Under My Umbrella,” and finally the pure ambiance of “Aqueous Transmission.” On the album closer, the band experiments with new instruments such as a Chinese pipa and an accompanying Japanese orchestra. The sprawling, seven and a half minute track closes out with the sound of frogs gently croaking in the distance to end this chapter of the band.
As much as I truly love Make Yourself, Morning View was the album that made me a life-long fan of Incubus. It’s a true reflection of what happens to a band that reacts to the environment that they put themselves in to inspire their own creative juices. It just happens to be that Incubus are so damn talented that this album was never not going to be amazing. Incubus will be celebrating their 20th anniversary of Morning View by returning to the exact house this weekend for an exclusive performance and livestream. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the band’s ”Make Yourself Foundation.”