Jam titans Umphrey’s McGee released its new studio album, Zonkey, on November 11th through its independent label, Nothing Too Fancy Music. Being a mashup album, this new project is starkly different than anything Umphrey’s has recorded in the studio before. Staying true to their eclectic, genre-bending nature that has made Umphrey’s a legendary band in the jam scene, the mashups on Zonkey feature artists from Phil Colins to The Talking Heads and even Nirvana. Who would have thought Metallica’s “Sad but True” would mashup so well with the Gorillaz early 2000’s alternative hit “Clint Eastwood?” No one but Umphrey’s.
The concept of mashups is not a new idea by any means – DJs and electronic producers have employed this style for years. For a rock and roll band, however, this concept is relatively uncommon, and even less commonly executed as tastefully and aptly as Umphrey’s does on Zonkey. Though these mashups are extremely fresh, they are nothing new to longtime fans of the band. Umphrey’s debuted their first mashups on Halloween of 2008 by mashing up the music of Michael Jackson and Pink Floyd, Daft Punk and The Doors, and a handful more. Since then, Umphrey’s mashups have evolved and found their place in the band’s vast, ever-changing repertoire.
Despite being an album of mostly covers, Umphrey’s distinct sound shines through. Bassist Ryan Stasik’s distinctively smooth yet heavy bass tone stands out on the first track of the album, “National Loser Anthem” (“National Anthem” by Radiohead, “Loser” by Beck and “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins). Jake Cinninger’s unique percussive guitar style is particularly noticeable on the album’s third track, “Can’t Rock My Dream Face” (“Rock With You” by Michael Jackson, “Can’t Feel My Face” by The Weeknd and “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac). On the same track, keyboardist Joel Cummins characteristic synth oscillation style combined with Andy Farag (percussion) and Kris Myers (drums) rhythm stylings shouts Umphrey’s McGee. Only two tracks off Zonkey contain Umphrey’s originals, the first being the notable “Electric Avenue to Hell” (“Highway To Hell” by AC/DC, “Electric Avenue” by Eddy Grant and “The Triple Wide” by Umphrey’s McGee), which features Umphrey’s fan favorite “The Triple Wide.” By mixing two popular yet wildly different songs with their own heavy dance groove, Umphrey’s has created something entirely new and unmatched. Keeping with the tradition, “Electric Avenue to Hell” was debuted on Halloween in 2013. Jennifer Hartwick (Trey Anastasio Band) provided additional vocals on this track by singing the lyrics of “Highway to Hell.” Alternating with Brendan Bayliss on lead vocals, Jennifer adds a unique soulful texture to the track.
In addition to being the band’s first album of its kind, Zonkey is also the first Umphrey’s album in which every member provides vocals. Zonkey featured the vocal debut of bassist Ryan Stasik on the fourth track, “Sad Clint Eastwood” (“Sad But True” by Metallica and “Clint Eastwood” by Gorillaz). Maybe his first but hopefully not his last, Ryan delivers fantastic vocals fitting to both songs.
Joel Cummins explained the eclectic selection of songs used in each mashup, “Zonkey clearly pays homage to some of our favorite artists & songs. While we’ve tried to reproduce the spirit of the original compositions & recordings, we’ve also tried to have some fun with the structure as we’ve often combined seemingly dissimilar musical elements to create a new vibe altogether.”
When asked in a Facebook Q&A about the future of these mashups, Joel Cummins said, “Zonkey was the document in time that we really wanted to put together to celebrate it and we are probably gonna take a break, I think we are all kind of feeling like we wanna change it up next year and do something else.” Umphrey’s fans can only hope that these songs return to their repertoire before too long.
Zonkey is most definitely an album not to be missed. A new take on classics, pop hits, and Umphrey’s originals that any fan of their music will thoroughly enjoy.
Zonkey Track Listing
“National Loser Anthem”
“National Anthem” (Radiohead) + “Loser” (Beck) + “In The Air Tonight” (Phil Collins)
“Life During Exodus”
“Life During Wartime” (Talking Heads) + “Exodus” (Bob Marley) + “City of Tiny Lites” (Frank Zappa) + “25 or 6 to 4” (Chicago)
“Can’t Rock My Dream Face”
“Rock With You” (Michael Jackson) + “Can’t Feel My Face” (The Weeknd) + “Dreams” (Fleetwood Mac)
“Sad Clint Eastwood”
“Sad But True” (Metallica) + “Clint Eastwood” (Gorillaz)
“Electric Avenue To Hell”
“Highway To Hell” (AC/DC) + “Electric Avenue” (Eddy Grant) + “The Triple Wide” (Umphrey’s McGee)
“Ace Of Long Nights”
“Ace of Spades” (Motörhead) + “It’s Gonna Be a Long Night” (Ween)
“Sweet Dreams” (Eurythmics) + “Sunglasses at Night” (Corey Hart) + “Electric Feel” (MGMT)
“Stranglehold” (Ted Nugent) + “Sabotage” (Beastie Boys)
“Come As Your Kids”
“Kids” (MGMT) + “Come As You Are” (Nirvana) + “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” (Dead or Alive)
“Thunder Kiss ’65” (White Zombie) + “Relax” (Frankie Goes to Hollywood) + “Have a Cigar” (Pink Floyd)
“Bulls On The Bus”
“Bulls On Parade” (Rage Against the Machine) + “Mark On the Bus” (Beastie Boys)
“Hajimemashite” (Umphrey’s McGee) + “Bitter Sweet Symphony” (The Verve)