To End the Illusion of Separation – Papadosio (2012)

Album artwork for To End the Illusion of Separation

Album artwork for To End the Illusion of Separation

The concept of the psychedelically-charged jam band has been around since the 1960s.  Groups like the Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd kicked off a revolution that would soon become a major chunk of America’s musical history.  Since those times, there has always been a strong-minded, passionate group of musicians and music lovers that have kept the genre alive and allowed it to evolve into something new.  Today, a movement of new musicians has been combining the jam band mentality with modern technology to create a style of music dubbed “jamtronica,” or “livetronica.”  Papadosio, a band formed in Athens, Ohio in 2006, has been on the forefront of this movement for several years now.  They approach the genre with a strong songwriting background, which they use to incorporate melodic vocal harmonies and heartfelt messages about the unity of mankind.  Last Tuesday, the band released a double disc album, To End the Illusion of Separation (T.E.T.I.O.S.), featuring 20 tracks of new material.  Spanning the course of two full hours, the album is their most diverse effort yet, and it takes the listener on a whirling journey of transcendent emotion, spirituality, and euphoric release.

One of the simplest ways to describe T.E.T.I.O.S. would be to consider it as a complete musical experience.  In other words, it’s a full, two-hour experience that travels through an eclectic collection of uniquely-orchestrated soundscapes, arranged in a manner that allows for a natural progression from beginning to end.  In many ways, it is comparable to a feature-length film.  Many, many words could be used to describe the true emotion that Papadosio’s music evokes, yet its true nature lies in the listener’s personal experience.  It is musical therapy at its finest; all of your real-world problems seem to fade away as the band’s creative voice resounds through your entire consciousness.

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Rebel Hill – Vinyl Thief (2012)

Album artwork for Rebel Hill

Album artwork for Rebel Hill

I always love discovering relatively unknown, homegrown bands that have an unparalleled passion for the music they create.  It’s refreshing to step into their own little utopian corner of the musical world, where everything is exactly as it should be.  Such was the case when I stumbled upon Vinyl Thief, a five-piece electro-rock group coming straight out of Nashville, Tennessee.  Everything from the music itself to the album artwork to the earnest blogging on Nashville’s top foodie hotspots screams out that this is a band that is passionate about the simple things in life.  This is an attitude that is reflected in their music as well.

For a group based out of the country music capital of the United States, they are certainly breaking the mold.  Vinyl Thief’s Rebel Hill is grungy, yet lighthearted.  It’s soulful, but carefree.  It’s lo-fi indie rock with an electro twist.  This type of music has been rising in popularity in recent years as garage bands have discovered the use of electronics.  As lead vocalist Grayson Proctor puts it, “In the past, people always equated Nashville with cowboy hats and rodeos.  That’s all starting to change with new bands that aren’t afraid to take risks.”

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Perspective – Jake Nielsen (2012)

Jake Nielsen

Album artwork for Perspective

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.

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Funkengruven: The Joy of Driving a B3 – Kevin Coelho (2012)

Album artwork for Funkengruven: The Joy of Driving a B3

Perhaps it would be unwise to say that Kevin Coelho is one of the best jazz organists this world has ever seen.  To make such a bold statement, given the genre’s rich and expansive history, would surely step on many people’s toes.  The boy is only seventeen, after all.  For all we know, he may not even be allowed to legally drive anything, let alone a B3.  Why is it, then, that I can feel him channeling that same energy that we hear from all the jazz and blues superstars we’ve come to love?  As a rising star himself, Coelho is a living embodiment of the power of music; it doesn’t matter who you are, or where you come from, as long as you create honest, impassioned music. This is certainly the case with his debut album, Funkengruven: The Joy of Driving a B3.

Right off the bat, it is easy to tell that Kevin Coelho truly is basking in “the joy of driving a B3.”  The record starts off by immediately throwing you into the swing of the title track, “Funkengruven.”  Coelho teams up with guitarist Derek DiCenzo and drummer Reggie Jackson to form one of the most tightly-knit trios I’ve heard in quite some time.  It quickly becomes evident that all three of them are instrumental masters in their own right, and the chemistry between them shines through.  As the group starts off by running through the head of the first tune, we are lured in by a relatively calm, modest opening.  And then, before you can say “jivin’ jitterbugs,” Coelho kicks it up a notch with his first organ solo on the album.  This is one it starts to get real.  Although he starts out soft, he continues to escalate more and more, until you suddenly find yourself wondering how such creative ingenuity is even possible.  Definitely a fantastic way to kick off the record.

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Greater Than One – Dwele (2012)

Album artwork for Greater Than One

Album artwork for Greater Than One

“We don’t say swag no more, we say swank.”  Defining words, to be sure. These are lyrics from the confident, yet deeply emotional music created by Andwele Gardner, more commonly known by his stage name Dwele.  Contemporary R&B has always been known for its tight production and lush vocals, however despite having a very firm grasp of this concept, I was still unequivocally blown away when I listened to Greater Than One for the first time.  If you are not comfortable being seduced by a black man with an incredibly hypnotic voice, then you may be in the wrong place.  This album is packed full of beautiful vocals, thick chords, and sentimental lyrics.  Dwele features a selection of Detroit’s finest R&B artists and producers, including J. Tait, L’Renee, and Black Milk on “Must Be” and Monica Blaire on “Swank” and “PATrick RONald,” and the result is a brilliant portrayal of the city’s rich musical subculture.

Everything that you would expect to hear in an R&B album is present in Greater Than One. The keyboard sounds are to die for; nothing quite replaces that classic Fender Rhodes timbre.  There’s something about it that automatically makes every problem in the world seem insignificant.  On top of that, any musician who is looking to improve their grasp of musical harmony should make a point to study R&B.  The style definitely pulls heavily from the guidebook of jazz harmony, but implements it in a much hipper context.  What exactly makes it hip?  There are essentially two factors (in my opinion) that contribute to such a transformation: the lyrics and the beats.

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