311 has been around and rockin’ since the late 1980s, with their first album release in 1993. Now, they have had eight fully original album releases, each one having a distinctly different sound. 311’s style has mutated and shifted from each album to the next, and each has been consistently solid. I compiled this “top ten” list by essentially picking one or two songs from each album that I think best represent the band’s musical approach on that album. The order I have assembled the songs in is not a reflection of which is better or worse, but merely a means of documenting their change in style as time progressed.
Track #5 on “Music,” 311’s first album, released February 9, 1993, “Unity” is a rough but powerful song. While less polished than their later music, this song showed 311’s talent as songwriters, and established their potential to be a very successful band. They introduced a new subgenre of music, with their combination of rap and rock brought together seamlessly. The subject of the lyrics also clearly sets the stage for their messages of love and acceptance, which are predominant in much of their music up until their latest release.
2. Omaha Stylee
Track #5 on “Grassroots,” from July 12, 1994, this song is the product of 311’s nurturing of their style and maturing their structural design in their music. The guitar work is very distinct, and the vocalists show a greater respect for melody while retaining the kick-ass sound that the rough “Music” style brought to the table.
Track #12 on “Grassroots,” “Six” gave a sign of the direction 311 was moving toward, with a foundational baseline/guitar riff that set the tone of the song. As they began to settle into this style, the songs they wrote became more and more interesting and impressive, in terms of cohesion and bringing all of the parts together. “Six” is a good example of this impressive nature that the band developed.
Track #1 on “311,” which hit stores on July 11 of 1995, this song showed the harder side of 311. However, despite its distorted guitar work and rockin’ melodies, it is quite finely tuned and flawlessly recorded. Once again, 311 proved just how talented of songwriters and musicians they were with this song, and really the entire album.
5. Beautiful Disaster
One of 311’s most well known singles, “Beautiful Disaster” was what sort of kick-started 311’s more elegant style, appearing as track #4 on “Transistor” on August 5, 1997. The shift that the band made between their self-titled release and Transistor was so drastic, you might think they were a different band. “Transistor” contained much less rap, much more melodic singing, and a lot of spacey music effects, which turned out to elevate 311’s status in the music industry. “Beautiful Disaster” crowded the radio stations for a long time after its release, and ever since, the band’s clout has not waned.
Track #9 on “Soundsystem,” released on October 12, 1999, “Eons” stands as a showcase of 311’s abilities as a purely rock band. “Soundsystem” is essentially their first album comprised of all rock and nearly no rap, and with this release they decided to kick the synth and go for straight rock. The melodies are more fluid and deep than ever before, and the music riffs blow you away.
Making its debut as track #11 on “From Chaos,” on June 19, 2001, this song presents a style similar to, yet refined from “Transistor” and “Soundsystem.” Also, SA Martinez, who had always just previously rapped for the band, began singing harmonies with Nick Hexum, and it worked magnificently.
8. Beyond the Gray Sky
Track #5 on “Evolver” from July 22, 2003, this song is just another step in 311’s successful attempt to further nurture their sound. They had found a new style, and Evolver is easily the most well-produced and tightest-sounding album they have released. “Beyond the Gray Sky” is somewhat standard in its structure and “genre,” but an incredible product of the band’s mastery of music.
9. Sometimes Jacks Rule the Realm
Track #11 on Evolver, “Sometimes Jacks Rule the Realm” showed signs of 311’s shift into more artistic music. It is not that there was anything very experimental about the song, but it has a far different sound from what they had previously done, and it once again showed that they never stay in one place too long. As always, this change was welcome because the song is amazing.
10. Frolic Room
Track #3 on “Don’t Tread on Me,” their latest album from August 16, 2005, “Frolic Room” has a slightly more upbeat and reggae-derived feel to it, as is the pattern on this album. However, the band does not fail to incorporate the excellent melodies and harmonies that have come to be expected from them.
311 seems to have strayed from their old style of laying rap over cool guitar riffs, which is a bit unfortunate, but they continue to move forward into new styles that never cease to amaze their fans. It’s impressive that they have stayed together for so long, with very few bumps in the road. They consistently tour the country and release an album at least every other year. They have showed their dedication to their music, and proven that they really are about the love and passion of it. We can only wait for the next incredible installment from the band.