In many ways, it’s both logical and lazy to criticize an album for its length. “I liked Reflektor, but it was just too long.” That’s how I felt when Arcade Fire’s dancehall opus was first released. Yet, if something’s good, shouldn’t the length not be an issue? Shouldn’t you want more of what you love from a particular band? While I’ve since come around to Reflektor, I still can’t pin down why the runtime initially bothered me so much.
With 311, it’s easier to articulate a criticism against the length of some of their records. It has little to do with the sonics and everything to do with the message, which is perpetually one of positivity. The Omaha quintet always has been and always will be characterized by good vibes. And I suppose that’s admirable. Lord knows there’s plenty of negative music out there, and not everyone wants to be reminded of how shitty life can be. After a time, though, the well-wishes, laid-backness, and elementary musings on space and nature start to grate. The nonstop beach party becomes numbing. At first, I blamed my sourness toward Stereolithic, their 11th full-length, on my age. But even as a 12-year-old, when 311 was one of my favorite bands, I could never make it through Transistor‘s 68 minutes.
At 58 minutes, Stereolithic isn’t quite as hefty of an undertaking, but it sure comes close. And, as was the case with Transistor, my threshold for the good times is about a half hour. That’s probably why I enjoyed the EP-length Universal Pulse, although I will admit that Stereolithic picked up for me with closer, “Tranquility”, which reminds of a weird, reggae version of Wilco’s “My Darling”. Before that, however, the messages are as general as “We are not so different, you and I/ No matter what we think,” as told to us by rap-singer Nick Hexum on “Revelation of the Year”. “The image you have of me/ Is what I’d like to be,” sing-rapper SA Martinez spits a few songs later on “Make It Rough”. These mantras start to feel hollow — cultish even.
Of course, 311 isn’t a cult. They’re just a bunch of nice guys from Nebraska who I’m sure mean everything they say. And there’s still much to admire in their metallic production and musicianship, especially from the rhythm section of bassist P-Nut and drummer Chad Sexton. But unqualified positivity can only go so far, in the end turning into something that can make you feel a little negative.
Essential Tracks: “Tranquility”