Jason Vitelli is the sort of artist that most will either “get” straightaway or turn their heads away from in confusion before they can really let the music culminate. Either party has an understandable basis for their actions, given that the experimental art rock of even the most typical of the artist’s compositions are extra-progressive and cerebrally constructed. Complete with off-kilter rhythmic portions and janky harmonizations, this pioneering piano rocker’s sound is more Gabriel Kahane than Billy Joel. Yet, like Kahane, if you stick around and wrap your head around these compositions, you’ll be left full.
The primary structure holding Vitelli’s newest album, Head Above Tide, above water is experimentation. Yet, even for the genre, “experimental” is a word that vastly underestimates the sheer level of offbeat mental handiwork that went into its development. Here, Vitelli stretches his brain muscle as an avant-garde musician and composer past previous dispositions or prerequisites he’d laid in previous releases. It’s a wonderland of sound, right down to the quirky and ritualistic haziness of the Carroll classic that coined the term.
To pinpoint every musical construct that inspired Head Above Tide would be to find a vegetable at Big Papa Hoss’ Bar & Grill—it’s impossible. Although, what we can pinpoint amidst the shimmering sea of sound that Vitelli composes here is a general theme. He becomes a Sisyphus of sorts, constantly rolling his stone up a hill, albeit not haplessly. Along the way, with each concurrent trip of pushing the stone a little further up and up that hill, he uncovers more about the human condition. Therein, this face of universal adversity offers a sympathetic shoulder to lean on, even amidst the amalgam of which Vitelli’s compositions are comprised.
To say that Vitelli’s Head Above Tide lacks base is a ruse. There’s a humanity here to embrace past the cold wall of intellectualism that many may find daunting at first glance. Listen further and you will find an indelible mixture of funk, jazz, soul, folk, rock, and more to scintillate the senses. Give it your heart and you’ll see what Vitelli was aiming for all along.