Having passed the ten-year mark, a milestone for any band, Umphrey's McGee have taken an increasingly deliberate approach to their career, attempting, for instance, to create a definitive representation of their concert performance in 2007's Live at the Murat (the equivalent for this group of the Grateful Dead's Live/Dead or the Allman Brothers Band's At Fillmore East), and taking a few years to come up with their fourth studio album, Mantis, for the first time working from scratch without road-testing the material. If the result is not quite the Umphrey's McGee equivalent of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, this is certainly the first album by the group to really sound like a studio effort, with its intricate editing, addition of strings (the overdubbed efforts of Christopher Hoffman and Nathan Swanson on violins, violas, and cellos), and such studio-only effects as fade-outs. It is also a recording on which these musos let themselves go stylistically and technically, less interested in demonstrating their chops than in creating complex musical statements. Umphrey's McGee are usually categorized as a jam band, but Mantis has none of the blues and jazz underpinnings typical of such ensembles (and none of the noodling). Rather, this is neo-prog rock in the manner of, say, Yes or Rush, exulting in its abrupt tempo shifts, modulations, and contrasting musical textures. It argues that the musicians are not just the whiz kids they started out as, but accomplished, mature artists ready to explore unknown territory.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann