It’s been clear from their studio albums that the guys in Umphrey’s McGee don’t want to be defined strictly as a jam band, and that they require material to be solid before it gets expanded onstage. Death by Stereo is the big leap forward, the studio set that makes good on all their scattered brilliance over the years. And though the songs are shorter than usual (and always un-segued), their debt to vintage progressive rock has never been clearer. Consider the album’s centerpiece, “The Floor,” which opens with a spacey (structured, not jammed) instrumental, then alternates heavy riffage with a grand Floyd/Nektar-like chorus, and finally brings everything together — all done in 5½ minutes. Even a concise rocker like the opening “Miami Virtue” is full of rewarding twists and turns. Throw in a large dose of melody (and, alas, one misfire: “Deeper,” which proves that Umphrey’s isn’t a funk outfit) and you’ve got a band whose abilities have caught up to its high ambitions.
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