What’s Gonna Be on the Next String Cheese Album?

The String Cheese Incident’s Winter Carnival wrapped up in Las Vegas this past weekend, and the next closest Kangfirmed appearance thus far is their annual Electric Forest run at the end of June. Four months is a long time to have to wait for more heady gouda, but in the meantime, we can occupy ourselves with a little unscientific speculation about the band’s possible studio adventures.

Ask any jam band fan what they think of the studio albums and you’ll get opinions, sure, but not without a generous side of eye rolls and out-of-hand dismissals. The consensus view is generally that the studio output of any jam band doesn’t tell half the story, if that much. I might be a bit of a heretic in this regard, but I confess I pull up the studio tracks a lot. Like the band themselves, my main reason for enjoying the studio product is that I like retracing the chronicles of where they’re going and where they’ve been, so when the band books studio time, my salivary glands kick into high gear. The fact that nine whole years passed and Song in My Head turned out as good as it did should be all the more reason for future studio excursions to become appointment listening for fans.

The well of new tunes didn’t dry up with the release of Song in My Head; the boys are still on a creative tear and still debuting new original material, as well as reworking some older chestnuts. They’ve expressed interest in getting back into the studio as soon as possible in interviews, and they’ve already got at least a few nuggets stored up that I think have a greater-than-99-percent chance of making the cut.

There’s still time for songs in the works we haven’t heard yet to debut, but for now, let’s fiddle around with what we’ve got. Knowing what we know about them, we’re going to take seven songs (technically eight, but seven numbered) currently in mostly heavy (sometimes occasional) rotation and rank the likelihood of them being on the next studio album on a painstakingly calibrated scale of one to five pixelated cheese wedges, one indicating a slim chance and five being a mortal lock.

Songs are listed alphabetically.


1. “Beautiful”

Co-written with Chris Berry of Panjea, which is important because it always brings Kang’s game up a notch when he works with a collaborator. “Beautiful” hasn’t gone anywhere since it debuted 4/25/14 in Oakland, and I would imagine it’s probably on for the long haul. One of the few songs in the SCI catalog that sounds better the dubbier it gets. My guess would be it turns out to be the “Rosie” of the album, that one track where they all agree to go all in on the crazy noises and knobs and wubs that used to make them fight with each other.

Rating:



2. “Bollymunster”

In case you’re not aware, “Bollymunster” takes an old Irish melody called “Star of Munster” and puts it in a blender along with about five minutes of Indian and electronic canoodling. It’s not the first time String Cheese has pulled a stunt like this; “Valley of the Jig” is basically “Red-Haired Boy” with a thick layer of trance on top. The difference is that “Valley of the Jig” is a good song that actually evolved over the course of several years, whereas you can pretty much pull any given performance of Bolly out of a hat and know exactly what you’re getting.

Often referred to pejoratively as “Mollydumpster”, because the only people who really like it a lot tend to be wooks. If you ask me, the band needs to either defibrillate this song somehow or shelve it. But, it’s been in heavy rotation since it debuted, and they seem to like playing it, and it knocks out a lot of birds with one stone—it’s electronic, it’s grassy, it’s got fiddle, etc.[1] “Bumpin’ Reel” is much better but, I hate to say it, less likely to make the studio cut, if we’re being honest with each other and ourselves.

Rating:

 
 
3. “Here to Stay”
 
I’m not going to pretend I ever understand what Travis is talking about in his lyrics. Straight up, I don’t. His songs never last long enough in the rotation to get really acquainted with them anyway. But, sometimes they’ll throw him a bone and put something he wrote on a studio album. It’s a slick move: they get to add one more author to the list of people who have material on the album, and they get to play up the ensemble aspect some more. It’s a bit hard to gauge this one. It’s only been played three times so far, but I’m going to be optimistic about it. It sounds really cool at least, so I’m pulling for it.
 
Rating:
 


4. “I’m Still Here”

This song’s only been played five times so far but it’s come around pretty well in the ten months it’s been around. I wasn’t a fan at first since the way it’s sung is WAY outside Billy’s vocal abilities, but they seem to have rectified this by having Travis sing it in the most recent performance (Eugene 1/19/15), which is a much better fit for the range and style involved. This is a really weird song, almost in some ways very un-SCI-like. It almost seems at times like it could be a Honkytonk Homeslice[2] song, until they get to the really crunchy stuff, like after “yes it could”, and then who knows. It feels like it could have been on Untying the Not, which is a compliment. It’s hard to say at this juncture where it fits into the overall Cheese mythos, but if they keep developing it, it could be a monster in second sets when they bring the tempo down in order to create a mood. Whatever happens to it, I hope they treat it better than “Cats”.

Rating:



5. “Just One Story”

Kang relied on old material for his contributions to Song in My Head. “Betray the Dark” got its rightful proper treatment after the disgusting limp noodle version that appeared on One Step Closer, and “Stay Through” debuted in 2005, though that can be hard to remember since it only got played three times before it got shelved, seemingly for good, before reappearing suddenly in the lead-up to the new album, since which it’s been played at least semi-regularly. If he repeats this move for the next album, I think this is the one that’ll make the cut—yes, even over “Desert Dawn” (I think the window on hearing a studio version of that song has shut, though I could, and always hope to, be wrong). I realize this is a bit of a stretch, but we’re all just spitballing here, and good luck ever getting “Tamba” or “Solution” on a record.

Rating:



6. “Sweet Spot”

The number one definite gotta-be-on-there so far. If this doesn’t appear on the next album, I’ll eat my SCI bucket hat, especially since the only Moose-led track on Song in My Head was on the melancholy “Struggling Angel”. Moseley isn’t the most prolific member of the group, but when he sits down to write something, he makes it count, and the fan response to this song has been nothing but positive. You can hardly go wrong when SCI starts going deep in the pocket. 

Rating:


7. “Until the Music’s Over”

Before this winter, this song had been played live exactly one time since appearing on One Step Closer in 2005. Then, it showed up pretty much out of nowhere during the 2014 New Years run with a fresh coat of paint and a jam space you could fit a Carnival cruise ship in. Could another polish job á la “Betray the Dark” be in the pipeline? A lot of songs from that black sheep of an album, e.g. “Give Me the Love” and the title track, have made triumphant returns and significant evolutionary strides post-hiatus, and the Barefoot Boys have shown they’re not afraid to re-record material. (See also the Honkytonk Homeslice cut of “Just Passin’ Through”, which restores the crucial instrumental coda to its rightful prominence.) Of all the tracks from OSC to poke their noses out of hibernation, this one’s quickly shaping up to be the most exciting, and if the band stays committed to it, this one’s got a puncher’s chance.

Rating:


[1] Plus it’s got some semi-nonsensical Jason freestyling, and every good Cheese fan loves that!


[2]
God, I hate saying/typing that for any reason.

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