The alternative explosion of the 90’s provided a plethora of amazing bands. From Nirvana to the Red Hot Chili Peppers to the Smashing Pumpkins, there was no shortage of unique, trend setting artists. While some of these bands have come and gone, one band though that has consistently thrived in the years to follow is 311. The rap/rock/reggae/funk quintet from Omaha, Nebraska have carved out a niche all their own. 311 has released to date an impressive eleven studio albums. Their twelfth album, Mosaic, was released today.
While selling nearly nine million albums in America, the band has found innovative ways to bring their music to the masses. No band has the unique relationship with their fans that 311 has. Their annual Unity Tour runs through the summer months bringing the 311 style across the states. The 311 Cruise has seen the band set sail on the open sea with their fans. But most impressively since 2000, the band has presented “311 Day.” The event which takes place every two years on or around March 11th. The most recent “311 Day” took place at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans. Celebrated over two days, the band performed an unprecedented, an insane, eighty-four songs!
To celebrate Mosaic and in honor of one of the hardest-working, inspirational most fun bands going, let’s see how 311’s impressive discography prior to their new album ranks up, and why it proves they are alternative rock’s most innovative and unique band. Happy 311 Day!
- Don’t Tread On Me (2005)
In 2005, 311 released their eighth album, Don’t Tread on Me. While certainly containing highlights, the album lacked the cohesive punch of earlier albums. The title track perfectly displayed 311’s distinct ability to seamlessly blend genres such as rock and reggae. However, as the album goes on, these moments become less and less.
Key Track: Don’t Tread on Me
- Uplifter (2009)
The follow up to Don’t Tread on Me, Uplifter was the first of two 311 albums to be produced by the legendary Bob Rock. Known by far for his decade-plus collaboration with Metallica, Rock was able to bring back some of the heavier elements to the 311 style. “Never Ending Summer” features one of lead guitarist Tim Mahoney’s greatest (Kirk Hammett-ish) solos of his career.
Key Track: India Ink
- Soundsystem (1999)
Soundsystem found 311 at a point in their career where they were able to go in any direction they wanted. For their fifth album, they went heavy. Led by the massive single, “Come Original” Soundsystem tracks such as “Flowing”, “Evolution” and “Livin’ & Rockin” are some of 311’s greatest straight up hard rock tracks. Drummer Chad Sexton, who has consistently written great songs for the band, delivered his magnum opus on the album with “Mindspin.”
Key Track: Freeze Time
- Universal Pulse (2011)
The second of the band’s two collaborations with Bob Rock, Universal Pulse is short, sweet and leaves you wanting more. With only eight tracks, the albums is “all killer and no filler.” “Sunset in July” serves as a mission statement of kinds for the band. With their consistently reggae-influence, summertime is synonymous with the band. The wing-guitar attack on “Trouble” harkens back to the Transistor-era duel axe work of Nick Hexum and Tim Mahoney. Vintage 311.
Key Track: Trouble
- Stereolithic (2014)
Released on March 11th, 2014, the band’s eleventh studio album also serves as their only album released on 311 Day. Nostalgia runs high throughout Stereolithic. The relationship 311 has with their fans is second to none in the music business. Most fans are always hoping their favorite band will “return to their roots.” 311 made good on that with Stereolithic. Sounding more like an album they would have produced in the late 90’s, the album has no shortage of classic 311 moments while still pushing themselves forward creatively.
Key Track: Sand Dollars
- Music (1993)
“Yo P-Nut, beat that thang!” The album that started it all. It’s not uncommon for some bands to need a couple of albums to figure out who they are. This is absolutely not the case for 311. “Welcome” serves as one of the best songs to start a band’s discography I can think of. In three minutes, you learn everything you need to know about 311. The laid back vibe, the reggae, the hard hitting rock and Chad Sexton’s unmistakable snare drum. The album is chock full of amazing moments. No one shines brighter that bassist Aaron “P-Nut” Willis. Only nineteen years old at the time, the ferocity and technical prowess he displays as a bassist is shocking for someone so young. One of the best debut albums; hands down.
Key Track: Feels So Good
- Evolver (2003)
Evolver is so much fun as a record. Nick Hexum and SA Martinez shine throughout; sounding better and fresher as vocalists than ever before. Lyrically Evolver is deeper than previous albums. “Beyond the Gray Sky” may honestly be 311’s highest achievement in terms of absolutely masterful songwriting. The tracks throughout the album bounce and groove in a way that is so 311 yet feels so fresh. Album opener “Creatures (For a While)” has gone on to become one of the band’s most well-known and endearing tracks while “Same Mistake Twice” display some of Nick Hexum’s most greatest lyrics. Evolver is a great entry into the band for those uninitiated with them.
Key Track: Beyond The Gray Sky
- From Chaos (2001)
“I’ll Be Here A While.” One of the band’s most well-known songs, the track almost overshadows the rest of what is a great album. From Chaos is another example of a 311 album that kind of lifts some feelings from Transistor (More On That To Come). The album also featured “Champagne” and “Amber.” While the album’s three best known songs are mellow, they’re no doubt powerful. They are not representative of the album as a whole though. The album hits harder and heavier at time than you’d expect. “You Get Worked” and “Sick Tight” are classic 311 through and through. The album no doubt proved how 311 can work the extremes of their sound to produce fantastic results.
Key Track: Amber
- 311 (1995)
311’s eponymous album proved to be the one that shot them into the stratosphere. “Down”, “All Mixed Up” and “Don’t Stay Home” all having success on the Billboard charts. The unprecedented success of the album was due largely to the fact that 311 were able to take their already defined sound and incorporate a cleaner, tighter production to make the album explode out of your speakers. Produced by Ron Saint Germain, the Triple-Platinum certified album serves as the pinnacle of the band’s commercial success. Chock full of fan favorites and set list staples, 311 took the band from underground favorites to part of the alternative boom. Due to vague similarities with the “Rap-Rock” and Nu-Metal” the band were lumped in with the burgeoning movements but 311 refused to be boxed in.
Key Track: Don’t Stay Home
- Grassroots (1994)
Sophmore Slump? Not so much. Grassroots took what 311 worked to perfection on their debut and pushed it to ten. “Homebrew” sports one of the most mesmerizing riffs in their discography. “Omaha Stylee” and “8:16am” could be the two best songs of a lesser band’s career. 311 sounded confident on Music but on Grassroots they sound determined. The rock is harder. The funk is funkier. The band’s lack of a desire to play it safe is remarkably bold. They were not looking for the radio but the radio ended on finding them on the eponymous follow up.
311’s live performance is where the band absolutely dominate and separate themselves from the pack. A live staple is the performance of “Applied Science.” The drum solo in the middle section of the song is extended with all five members jumping in on percussion to perform a fascinating drum solo. Just one of many reasons to see this amazing live band in action.
Key Track: 8:16am
1 Transistor (1997)
Come August, Transistor will be twenty years old. 311’s masterpiece, the twenty-one song features everything and more you can ask for (including a hidden opening track). There is so much that makes the album the monster it is. First of all, rather than creating a sequel to their previous album as an attempt to cash in commercially. Instead they stretched their creative and artistic vision to create an eclectic mix of songs that would go on to define their career. I’ve always gotten the impression that from album to album that followed the band tried to incorporate an element of Transistor, as a nod to the greatness of it. Whether dueling guitars a la “Beautiful Disaster” or the way in which Sa Martinez explodes in and out of songs or even some of the stranger soundscape-type aspects that pop up on Transistor.
Throughout the entire album, every band member gets to stand out and be “the guy.” Above all else, Transistor feels more like a journey and less like an album. All the way from “Transistor Intro” to “Stealing Happy Hours”. There are so many flavors. So many left turns. So many unexpected moments of pure musical bliss. A true classic. This album, along with the rest of 311’s discography and their fan friendliness with projects like 311 Day, are why they are alternative rock’s most innovative and unique band.
Key Track: Transistor