We may think of New York primarily as a music scene bisected by crooners and DFA label wannabees, but we often forget the charm of avant-garde activity that has run concurrently with the underground since the post-modern era became effective. Jason Vitelli is one of the post-post-modern art-rock fellers, taking from the sensibilities of Nelson Riddle and John Adams all the same on the remarkably astute Head Above Tide.
Vitelli’s record is quite the literal definition of performance art music. Seismic flurries of volin jabs beneath Vitelli’s flirtatious atonal piano and Byrne-inspire vocals ensure that the listener has no confusion as to whether or not this record falls into the outsider music scene of the East Coast. “The Persecution,” though early on in the record, is a definitive moment on Head Above Tide, underscoring a mission of manic intent with clear conservatory training. Similarly, “Welcome to My Life, Healing,” is an unexpected yet warranted track that channels calypso roots, brining a sandy shore to the Lower East Side of Brooklyn amongst the hipster trash and manic preachers (the actual preachers, not the band) all the same.
An effort that may easily become full of itself, Vitelli remains humbled while simultaneously maintaining the primary tenets of Empire State musical irregularity. A total of 16 tracks may seem somewhat excessive in number or perhaps a touch indulgent in the quest of nostalgia per subversive music, but Head Above Tide encompasses the current generation of musical n’er-do-wells, allowing Vitelli to holler and stomp through his feelings with the backdrop of a city that never ages.