Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Ben Sollee - Inclusions (2011)

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When one of my friends at college would sing and play cello, I got super excited, thinking he's was reinventing the wheel. Fast forward to March when I was showed a video of Kentucky singer/songwriter and cellist Ben Sollee's "Embrace" and my mind was blown. Something about playing a string instrument (that's not the guitar or some variation thereof) and being able to sing too is fascinating to me. Probably because I play the violin and find the task of playing and singing virtually impossible. So the fact that Ben Sollee can do so while creating some of the most intricate and lush melodies. Add that to the fact that Sollee is one of those much-sought-but-surprising-hard-to-find genre-bending conquistadors and we'll it's not just a recipe for success but complete and utter domination of your heart and eardrums.

Sollee's latest album, Inclusions, is a bit different than the jazz/soul/bluegrass/folk influence of Learning to Bend in that it sheds some of the more poppy sound prevalent on the debut. Instead of filtering these influences through a pop lens, Sollee allows them to exist on their own. And yet, they all mesh together to make a juggernaut of an album. Inclusions is as varied as you can be without it seeming like a hodge-podge of tracks assembled with little thought. The albums tracks all blend into each other with ease, enabling the shocking realization that you sat down and listened to the whole album when you only meant to listen to a single track. Inclusions differs from its predecessor by featuring less of Sollee's dazzlingly complex pizzicato melodies and a much more extensive collection of instruments (like jazzy brass on "Bible Belt") and a diminished focus on the cello. It'd be downright infuriating if it didn't make the cello's return that much more rewarding ("Electrified").

Ultimately, Inclusions is a treat. I was tempted to compare it to Learning to Bend at first before I realized that it's essentially a totally different beast. The album is more mature in its approach and not afraid to be something less accessible than the debut. There's essentially less of mash up of Sollee's various influences and more of him synthesizing them to inform his work, rather than purely using them as a crutch.

Give Ben Sollee a listen with the music video that introduced me to him, "Embrace":

Embrace from Ben Sollee on Vimeo.

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