This post has a bit of special significance for me. Today we’re taking a look at Perspective, the debut album from Virginia resident Jake Nielsen. Jake has spent decades creating his own unique blend of music that combines the complexity of progressive rock with more melodic singer/songwriter leanings. As a deeply religious man, Nielsen’s lyrics pull heavily from his beliefs and make for a distinctly inspirational experience for any listener, regardless of one’s own ideologies. He has essentially spent his entire musical career up until this point preparing for this release. Many of the tunes on this record have been in the works for many, many years. After listening to the album, I can easily say that all those years of hard work have paid off; Perspective is a brilliant display of razor-sharp musicianship and thought-provoking songwriting. This is a man who has mastered the art of perfectly balancing emotional sincerity and awe-inspiring virtuosity in music. This is also the man who served as my mentor and piano instructor for the majority of my pre-college youth.
It’s an interesting study of character to pick out all of the various musical influences in an artist’s music. On his Facebook page, Jake Nielsen cites his main influences as Dream Theater, Billy Joel, Ben Folds Five, and Neal Morse. This is actually an extremely accurate representation of Nielsen’s music. The obvious comparison to Neal Morse can certainly be heard in the Christian singer/songwriter vibe present on Perspective. The incredible musical talent that Nielsen possesses on the keyboards is a combination of Jordan Rudess’s technically demanding parts in Dream Theater’s music and the contemporary, slightly jazzy style of Billy Joel and Ben Folds. For someone who has never listened to much progressive rock before, I would say that this album is definitely an excellent bridge between such a style and more accessible contemporary music.
What is particularly impressive about Jake Nielsen’s music is that he is the sole creative mastermind behind all of it. The keyboard parts and vocals are of course performed by him, but he is also responsible for every other musical element on the album. Everything from the guitar riffs to the drum fills were written by Nielsen. Such a feat makes it even more impressive that he was able to pull together such a comprehensive prog rock effort. As the album kicks off with “To Be Content,” we are immediately met with an epic piano riff that comes to define the overall style of the rest of the record’s eight tracks. Along with “Decisions” and “Let’s Live,” the opening song showcases the heavier tendencies of Nielsen’s music. In these songs, you can hear inspiration stemming not only from Dream Theater (the obvious connection), but also from a much more classic, Emerson, Lake & Palmer style of prog.
I, myself, am not a religious person, however that did not prevent me from enjoying Sunday morning ballads like “How Can We Know” and “A Still Small Voice.” As a matter of fact, I was blown away by the raw emotion that I felt in the softer songs. The cello featured on the latter song was also a strong addition and helped to convey the raw purity of the tune. It’s always tremendously gratifying to hear a progressive rock musician who presents a softer side to counteract all the complexities of their more fast-paced repertoire.
Nielsen has also done an excellent job of using his resources to their full potential. For example, the drums on Perspective are entirely synthesized, programmed meticulously by Jake himself. The guitar tracks are a combination of digital instruments and his own shredding (another one of his many talents). Given such circumstances, it is safe to say that the album came out extremely well. The modern musician must have the ability to adapt to the ever-changing environment of the music industry, and Nielsen has definitely done his research in that aspect.
Perspective is an extremely solid progressive rock album. It captures the energy of contemporary and classic prog alike, and it combines it with meaningful Christian philosophies. The result is highly entertaining and passionate music. It’s easy to see that a remarkable amount of time and effort has been put into the making of this record, and it shows. Jake Nielsen deserves to be seriously commended for a successful release of his debut album, and I will definitely be looking forward to what he has to offer in the future.