Review: 311’s Stereolithic

Stereolithic album cover

311 released Stereolithic on 3/11 (March 11, 2014). After listening to this album probably more than 50 times in the past week, I think I’ve digested it enough to write a review.

Although I don’t (yet) consider any of the songs on Stereolithic “classic” 311 songs, there are several that are very close to that designation. My song-by-song review follows. Click on the song titles to listen to preview clips or (for the radio/internet singles) the full songs. The asterisks next to the song names indicate my rating out of five possible stars.

  1. Ebb and Flow * * * * –
    A heavy, but sometimes awkward rocker with awesome, soaring choruses and some good lyrics.
  2. Five of Everything * * * – –
    A well-written, solid, bouncing 311 song again with great lyrical content.
  3. Showdown * * – – –
    The hard rocking, grungy intro riffs belie the bouncy ska verses. But wait only a short time and the hard rocking riffs return. The vocal delivery in the verses holds the song back.
  4. Revelation of the Year * * * * –
    A groovy, mid-tempo jam with a solid chorus and rocking outro. SA’s awkward delivery on his first verse is the only issue I have.
  5. Sand Dollars * * * – –
    Bubbly wah guitars with a reggae vibe fill the space between the catchy choruses. Harmonizing guitars end the track memorably.
  6. Boom Shanka * * * – –
    “May the seed of your loin be fruitful in the belly of your woman” is what “Boom Shanka” means. This song, however, is a fun, funky jam about moving on and forgiving your past.
  7. Make It Rough * * * – –
    The song starts with a jazzy vibe before jumping into a ridiculously catchy chorus. After a jazzy guitar solo by Nick, it suddenly takes on more of a reggae vibe for SA’s verse. The song’s energy picks up toward the end and finishes with one last chorus.
  8. The Great Divide * * * – –
    Some humorous studio chatter from guitarist Tim Mahoney begins the track. This song goes through a bunch of different tempos and styles. It starts off with Nick and SA trading rap verses, but also breaks for a few singing parts and a chorus. Two-thirds of the way in, the track slows almost to a halt before it ends with an uplifting flourish.
  9. Friday Afternoon * * * * –
    The song starts slow in the beginning. The expectation is that it may be the chillest song on the record. Suddenly, however, it explodes with a heavy riff and more agressive vocals before descending into a trippy section where the music pans from left speaker to right. After a short guitar solo and a verse that begins softly, the energy builds, and then the song explodes again in a most unexpected way.
  10. Simple True * * * * –
    This song began as a P-Nut demo called, “Attempted Funk”. The demo itself can be heard before the song starts. The song starts as pure funk, proceeds to a jazzy section during SA’s verse, and then into a catchy, rocking chorus. This song typifies what I have deemed “mature” 311.
  11. First Dimension * * * – –
    A riffy, high-energy track with vocals that go all over the place. It’s somewhat disorganized, but it’s so fun that it almost doesn’t matter. Just grab on and enjoy the ride.
  12. Made in the Shade * * * – –
    A simple, spacey, stripped-down track with a driving drum beat and great lyrics. Perhaps a bit too simple. It’s over before it ever really delivers.
  13. Existential Hero * * * * –
    My favorite track. It samples a classic rap line before the beginning. This song has old-school 311 swagger with new school twists, which is to say that it has great rapping, cool lyrics, and melodic choruses. The rhythmic instumental before the ending section is beyond words. I’m not a fan of the ending, but it doesn’t detract from the song enough to warrant demotion from the top of my ranking.
  14. The Call * * – – –
    This is an interesting song with uplifting vocals. It has this happy, positive, infectious vibe. But something is missing. It works, but it’s not a standout track in my opinion.
  15. Tranquility * * * * –
    Tranquility is a simple, yet powerful song that will, no doubt, elicit emotions in you. The lyrics are full of hope and personal acceptance. Turn up the volume and just let it tug at your emotions and see what happens. I only wish they would have taken the ending guitar solo to another level, so to speak. As soon as it really gets going, it ends rather abruptly. Still a very solid end to a great album.

Overall, this album is solid and of consistent quality from start to finish. There are no weak tracks. Interestingly, several songs on this record are based on re-worked demos from the Don’t Tread on Me sessions in 2004-2005, including “Ebb and Flow” (“Go” demo), “The Great Divide” (“Rock 100” demo), and “The Call” (“Stealing My Girl” demo). Producer Scott Ralston insisted on re-working those demos. Ralston really brought out the best in the band. The album is creative, well executed, and it covers nearly all the styles for which 311 are known while also breaking some new ground. I don’t think a 311 fan can ask for much more.

The average of all the songs on the album is about 3 stars out of 5; however, because of the lack of weak songs and the diversity of styles among the tracks, I’m inclined to give Stereolithic 4 stars out of 5 overall, or four “rock on” dudes:

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