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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Act III: Life and Death – The Dear Hunter (2009)

The Dear Hunter

Album artwork for Act III: Life and Death

What is the music composer or songwriter, if not a storyteller? That has been the transcendent role of the musician throughout the many ages of human history.  From the first note that is struck, plucked, bowed, blown, or whatever else, we (typically) allow the performer to take over our attention until his story has finished.  While this is true for just about any kind of music, some artists have perfected the art of storytelling in a way that not only warrants our attention, but enables us to temporarily let go of everything else plaguing our mind while we surrender ourselves to its enthrallment.  Today we take a look at The Dear Hunter, one such group that has achieved mastery in this field.  The Dear Hunter originally began as a side project of Casey Crescenzo, who was a lead vocalist and guitarist for the post-hardcore band The Receiving End of Sirens at the time.  After writing the original demos for the first album to be released under this new name, Crescenzo elected to take leave of his old band in the interest of devoting his full attention to pushing The Dear Hunter forward.

This first EP, which was released in September 2006, came to be known as Act I: The Lake South, The River North.  This was the opening volume of a planned six-act story written by Crescenzo.  To quote his own words, “The Dear Hunter is the story of a boy, from his creation to his untimely end; the beautifully rapturous to the truly tragic.  Set at the dawn of the 20th century, the debut EP gives birth to a story, and attempts to make sense of the future by explaining.  Simply put, The Dear Hunter sings of things to which we can all relate: lust, deceit, greed, and hunting.”  I will not go too much into the depths of the intricately-crafted world of the story (that is something that you must do for yourself), but I can assure you that it is the kind of world that transcends time and exists completely in the surrealism of your own consciousness.

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The Sound of the Life of the Mind – Ben Folds Five (2012)

Album artwork for The Sound of the Life of the Mind

What’s this?  Ben Folds Five has released a new album?  Didn’t they break up over ten years ago?  This is very true – the band parted ways in 2000 after the release of their third and (supposedly) final album, The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner, in 1999.  After a twelve year hiatus, however, they rekindled the old flame and released The Sound of the Life of the Mind in September 2012.  For any and all fans of Ben Folds Five and/or Ben Folds’s solo work, this new album definitely lives up to the hype.  It sounds as though nothing was lost in those twelve long years of the band’s inactivity, and that they simply picked it up right where they left off.  This is definitely no small feat, especially given the large quantity of older bands that still struggle on despite having outlived their bygone golden ages.

As a singer/songwriter, Ben Folds has always stood out from the ocean of starry-eyed, mediocre talent present in the industry today.  Folds succeeds in writing truly unique music both instrumentally and lyrically, which leads to an extremely entertaining and original listening experience.  The lyrics are comical and informal; a refreshing change from the deadly serious subject matter prevalent in a large portion of singer/songwriter music.  Lines such as “If you’re feeling small, and you can’t draw a crowd, draw dicks on the wall” make it known that the band has retained their particular brand of wit over the years.  This album is perfect for the times when you’re simply looking for a light-hearted, energetic soundtrack to your day.

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