Every Man Should Know – Harry Connick, Jr. (2013)

Harry Connick, Jr.

Album artwork for Every Man Should Know

There’s always something incredibly nostalgic and heartwarming about the classic jazz crooner.  For someone like me, who was never alive to experience the golden days of artists like Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and the rest of the gang, I can still draw nostalgia from my memories of sitting by the fire in my family home, listening to such tunes from my father’s (and grandmother’s) record collection.  Today, the vocal tradition is carried on by notable greats such as Josh Groban and Michael Bublé, but the man who kicked off the modern era of contemporary vocal music surely has to be Harry Connick, Jr.

Harry Connick, Jr. is a man of many talents, or voices, rather.  He has just released his latest album, Every Man Should Know, and he takes on the personality of many different characters throughout the record.  Granted, all of these characters are the same person – himself – but they represent his person in different situations and stages of life.  When talking about the meaning behind the album, Connick says, “I used to be more comfortable writing in a fantasy-style concept, using ideas that intrigued me but didn’t necessarily come from personal experience.  It’s one thing to assume the role of a storyteller – it’s quite another when the story is your own.  I felt ready to explore some of my personal experiences in some of the songs this time around.”

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Polymorphic Code – The Algorithm (2012)

The Algorithm

Album artwork for Polymorphic Code

Okay, so I think it’s about time I ventured over to the heavier side of music.  I’m not always in the mood to listen to something aggressive and/or with heavy distortion, but when I am, I’m ready to RAGE. Throughout many of the formative years of my youth, I satisfied this desire by listening to heavy metal music – everything from Dream Theater to Periphery, from Avenged Sevenfold to Sum 41 (my punk rock phase directly preceded the heavy metal phase).  Once I started going to college, I was exposed to heavy electronic bass music (Zomboy comes to mind), which fulfilled the same need for chest-pounding, head-banging jams. Having established all of that history, you can imagine my delight when I first discovered The Algorithm, the musical lovechild of metal and dubstep.  I can say, without a doubt, that Rémi Gallego (the man behind the moniker) has one of the most unique sounds that I’ve ever been exposed to.  Basically, he combines modern djent metal breakdowns with experimental glitch electronica, and throws an ample helping of dubstep wobbles in there for good measure.  Okay, now read that sentence again.  Intrigued yet?  Let’s continue then.

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Building a bridge between heavy metal music and electronica is a daring move, no question. Although you certainly have the potential to appeal to two huge audiences instead of one, you also run the risk of polarizing the entire playing field.  Mashing together two styles with entirely separate fan bases may lead to both groups rejecting you.  I could definitely see such a thing happening, but only if the artist wasn’t very well-versed in both styles.  One listen to Polymorphic Code (The Algorithm’s first and only studio album), and it’s obvious that we’re dealing with a highly skilled musician.

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This Is What Happens – The Reign of Kindo (2011)

The Reign of Kindo

Album artwork for This Is What Happens

First things first, all of you should probably watch this.  You may have seen this video several years back when it gained quite a bit of circulation around YouTube.  This is the music of The Reign of Kindo, a jazz-rock group hailing from Buffalo, New York.  In April of 2010 they released their second studio album, and third release in total, called This Is What Happens on CandyRat Records.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with the label, CandyRat is one of my most trusted sources for beautifully written modern acoustic music.  Musicians like Jon Gomm and Andy McKee, two of the most notable percussive fingerstyle guitarists, are represented by the label.  In short, its catalog is stocked to the brim with remarkable music quality.  So then, back to This Is What Happens.  What exactly is it that happens?  Press on, dear reader…

If you think about it, the world’s population of music enthusiasts can essentially be divided into two categories.  There are those who value originality and advanced musicianship above all else, sometimes to the point of pretentiousness and condescension towards “lesser” artists.  Then there are those who don’t care about any of that; they just want to dance around and sing catchy melodies.  Both groups have their limitations, but luckily that’s where The Reign of Kindo comes in.  Their music combines elements from both of these viewpoints into a single cohesive style, and the result is an extraordinarily melodic collection of tunes, rich in originality and soulfulness.

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Redivider – Dopapod (2012)

Dopapod

Album artwork for Redivider

I’ve got to say that one of my favorite things about the current music industry is this strong resurgence of jam band music and culture that’s been going on for the past several years.  As someone who wishes they had been alive to witness the explosion of psychedelic rock, progressive rock, and the jam band scene in the ’60s and ’70s, I am extremely happy about the genre’s relatively unimpeded longevity.  After the Grateful Dead’s disbandment in 1995 as a result of guitarist and frontman Jerry Garcia’s death, the band Phish stepped in to fill the gap.  Although they never achieved quite the amount of success and popularity that the Dead had, they certainly helped to keep the scene alive for the next decade.  They were also an integral part of the rise of large-scale music festivals in the modern era.  If you think about all of the festivals that host yearly events now – Bonnaroo, Coachella, Camp Bisco, Rootwire, Lightning in a Bottle, All Good, Wakarusa – the list goes on and on.

Dopapod is a group that is quickly rising to the forefront of the jam band scene.  Born in 2007, they recently released their third studio album, Redivider, on 12/21/12.  The entire record was recorded in a barn at Tyrone Farm, a solar powered farm in Pomfret, Connecticut. Despite the fact that it was released less than a year after their previous album, Drawn Onward (side note: if you haven’t picked up on this yet, the band really likes palindromes), there is nothing about Redivider that gives away any sense of rushed preparation.  As a matter of fact, the entire thing is pure, musical gold.

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Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm – Benjamin Francis Leftwich (2011)

Benjamin Francis Leftwich

Album artwork for Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm

Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm is just one of those records that makes you feel better almost immediately after pressing play. The soft, fingerpicked patterns on the acoustic guitar accompanying a dreamy male voice; it’s the classic combination for any typical singer-songwriter.  Something sets Benjamin Francis Leftwich apart from the crowd, though.  Maybe it’s the chorus effects on his voice, or the string arrangements overlaid on top of the guitar chords, or maybe it’s the artistically autobiographical nature of the lyrics.  I think the main point is that this album has a clear sense of authenticity to it.  Each song is a complete transference of Leftwich’s ideals and creative vision.  It’s remarkably intimate as well, and makes it easy to feel as if you are an audience of one, listening to a private music session.

For years, I could never bring myself to give much attention to the typical singer-songwriter. After all, what do they really do other than pluck a few chords on the guitar and write songs about love?  I’ve had a recent change in perspective, though.  While it may not be the most complex or musically innovative sound, it’s rich in emotional content.  What is music, if not the purest form of expressing oneself?  The act of taking the tangled mass of thoughts in your head, deciphering them, and channeling them through your own personal form of artistic expression…it’s an amazing thing.  If you’ve ever tried to write a song in the past, then you know how deceptively challenging it is.

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Wisdom of Crowds – Bruce Soord, Jonas Renkse (2013)

Bruce Soord, Jonas Renkse

Album artwork for Wisdom of Crowds

I always love it when two musicians who have both put in the time developing their individual careers and finding success with their respective projects decide to come together to create a collaborative album.  We saw this a few days ago with Storm Corrosion, the joint endeavor of Steven Wilson and Mikael Åkerfeldt.  Today, I’ve got another such project, just released about a month ago on Kscope, a sub-label of Snapper Music which specializes in “post-progressive” music.  Ladies and gentlemen, I present you with Wisdom of Crowds, an album released by Bruce Soord and Jonas Renkse.

Bruce Soord is most popularly known for his role as the founder and creative mastermind behind The Pineapple Thief.  Started in 1999, The Pineapple Thief has released nine studio albums over a thirteen-year career, including the most recent record, All the Wars.  The group has become well-known in indie and progressive rock circles as a result of their unique stylistic crossovers between the two styles.

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