With the release of Anchor Drops, Umphrey's McGee has made only two studio albums to go with its four live albums, an appropriate balance for a band more comfortable jamming on-stage than writing songs and trying to come up with definitive performances of them in the studio. Necessarily, a studio collection focuses more on the songs as compositions consisting of lyrics (usually) and melodies, rather than on flashy playing before paying customers. Boasting 14 tracks, only a couple of which run over five minutes, Anchor Drops demonstrates that Umphrey's McGee remains a collection of riffmeisters who haven't quite figured out how to make music that is as involving as it is admirable. The players remain formidable instrumentalists who like to construct tracks from interesting bits they've stumbled upon while jamming, instead of actually composing within a structure; the songs tend to consist of sections of involved playing and furious rhythms that stop and start and change on a dime. Most of them have lyrics wanly sung by lyricist and guitarist Brendan Bayliss, but few of those words convey much meaning beyond occasional attempts at self-deprecating humor. Having gotten them out of the way, the band quickly roars on to another blistering climax that sounds borrowed from a late Frank Zappa record. The only exceptions are a couple of acoustic excursions, "Bullhead City," which finds Bayliss' wife, Elliott Peck, harmonizing with lead guitarist Jake Cinninger, and the closing instrumental, "The Pequod," a delicate fingerpicking exercise by Cinninger. No doubt the rest of the selections will come off better at Umphrey's McGee's concerts, where the sheer technique required to play such complicated pieces will win well-earned applause.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann