Adam Tell: Past the Hypothetical (Album Review)

(You can buy Past the Hypothetical on Bandcamp and iTunes, and stream it on Spotify.)

I knew Adam Tell as a fraternity brother and as a jazz singer on the level of the likes of Michael Bublé. Heck, he’s got the ability to croon and play piano just as well if not better than Jamie Cullum, a hero of mine back in my middle and high school days. But man was I surprised when a week or so after its first release, I finally decided to check out Past the Hypothetical, Adam’s debut album. Now a month later, I can’t stop listening.

Press play and you’re met with a solid electropop wall. You get 30 seconds to digest this complex electronic soundscape taking cues from such artists as Imogen Heap, Owl City, your favorite EDM groups and yet, underneath it all the chords and intelligence of jazz masters. Coat of Paint truly sets the tone of the album at a high energy. And then his voice comes in, and this incredibly talented Jazz baritone connects eras and genres to take what could be performed at Ultra Music Festival and give it intimacy.

We’re standing on a solid base, this house just needs a Coat of Paint 

After close to a month of listening, the rest of the album has touched on different parts of my musical palate over time. Overthinking continues to be one of my favorite tracks in message and aural content. The song’s subject has been a significant issue in my life; hearing a phenomenal musician like Adam discussing the issue underscored with a driving beat gives the impression that you can push through the problem. With a few tricks up his sleeve (at the 1:30 mark especially) it really drives the song into memory and begs a repeat listen.

In the last week I’ve been easing into the album at Eyes Right Here and listening through to the end of Wish. It’s certainly not the whole 46 minute experience of Past the Hypothetical but it offers a quick departure into this world on my afternoon commute, or anytime I pick up some listening material to get into the sync of studying.

I need to shift my sails, face the other way / I’m tired of living life like it’s a losing game –Overthinking 

Special consideration needs to be made to how artfully this album ends; Eyes transitions into a laid back Whom You Fought Against with powerful chords resting on jazz rhythms. But the real magic starts with the Wish (Intro). Here revealed is the Adam Tell I knew from his last heartfelt Phi Mu Alpha concert in December 2013- a man intimately connected to his art. Accentuated by a piano only beginning and what could be Iowan or Miamian rain, his voice croons again and begs you to come closer. Then the incredible transition into the only instrumental track on the album leaves you breathless and wanting more. Wish maintains the tone of the whole album: exuberant, full of life, and somehow optimistic despite the many emotions that permeate this sonic journey.

Where most music of our era focuses on sex, breakups, drinking, partying, drugs and more, Adam Tell chooses to be a wordsmith. Yes, maybe love themes do exist in Past the Hypothetical, but they’re treated preciously, just as Adam carefully crafted each song in music, mix and word. There’s a beauty and complexity that can be found in this album that is eschewed by major label releases that replace careful crafting with “star power,” and we’re left with an empty record like “Anaconda” that calls for attention. I guess the world needs people like Nicki Minaj, but the quiet excitement of Past the Hypothetical has me focused on more genuine music. THR