Adam Exler – You

 Adam Exler – You

Adam Exler – You – Album Review

Adam Exler seems like one heck of a nice guy.  He’s got himself a shiny new record full of bright rhythms and passionate songs.  He’s got a brand-new website and new videos to support the album.  He’s also got supreme motivation and inspiration guiding him on the material on the new album You – getting this out there finished and into the world was also to tribute and honor his late stepfather who had passed away on Christmas Day of 2014 after a five year battle with cancer.  The result, as you’d likely expect, are songs that are genuinely important and highly sincere…you add in a great grip on songwriting and the natural talent Exler possesses and you’ve got yourself an expressive journey in entertainment.

Although…he’s got a tag on this whole list of songs here trying to insert himself into the ‘rockabilly’ category/genre…not even remotely sure what’s up with that…but we can always get into that later…

Also worth noting…You is still officially unreleased at this time.  In the original correspondence I got from the friendly artist directly, it actually mentions it being an EP.  So…just keep in mind, there’s still potentially going to be a few changes going to be made; or, well…I suppose it could also be a really long EP with sixteen songs on it…but I’m assuming this all becomes an actual album and that’s probably what he meant all along.  He’s got a lot of material that fits well together and a cohesive sound that runs through the music largely due to the strengths in his recognizable vocals; he’s got enough for like, three EP’s here – but I’m again, going to assume that this is the layout for the official album until any of us hear otherwise.  If he wants to prove it’s different than what I claim it to be here, he’s welcome to officially release it any time – how’s that for a new spin on sly pressure?

Alright…hang on a second…after heading down the rabbit-hole, I’ve found the official You EP, which apparently traces back to 2013 and has four of the songs from what I’d now definitely assume to be the full lineup of tunes for the full album being released soon enough.  Following me?  Digging deeper…the list of songs that I’m listening to even includes what looks to be about five of the songs from his 2010 full-length release of The Writing’s On The Wall as well.  So there you have it…technically as far as I can tell, this new album to come is actually comprised of songs that date back as far as seven years…but I’m assuming that these have all been refreshed under the new crew of musicians and talent he’s recruited to bring the new album to life.  In that sense – we’re actually in awesome shape right?  You should play like a greatest hits album under circumstances like that.  In my opinion – it really did.

I certainly hear no reason to hold it back any longer.  Adam’s actually from the old-school corners of the internet just like me it turns out – he was already slayin’ it long ago in the years & chances are, somewhere along the lines I probably heard him there after reviewing some ten-thousand songs at that site way back in the ol’ 2000s.  Point being – he’s been around long enough to now know exactly what he wants with his music and tested the court of public opinion while he refined his sound; and now he’s charted in a whole bunch of places, won contests and had number-one hits in key cities for a sound like his in places like Nashville, Atlanta, St. Louis and Los Angeles.  It all definitely adds up as far as my ears can tell – dude is intensely legit; an equally impressive writer & performer…You proves that.

The new album begins with the lead-single and latest offering online, a Blues Traveler-esque cut called “What Do You Believe?” – and right away you hear the craft of songwriting make itself apparent.  Everything from the music to the words is about to find the perfect place to fit into.  I always have a harder time connecting to tracks like this on a lyrical-level; as I’ve often said, we all have to write about SOMETHING and no one thing is really ultimately any kind of better choice than another.  Adam relies on a tried, tested & true recipe that generally always invites widespread appeal…as he rattles off a list of things he believes in, pop-culture references are dropped into the mix in abundance.  Is it catchy?  Completely.  There’s absolutely no doubt about that…certainly no doubt about the high-level of skill and execution in both performance and production here either…”What Do You Believe?” itself, is without a doubt, a completely single-worthy tune.  He’d be crazy not to put this one out there to entice people into the record…it’s the kind of easygoing melody that instantly connects and gets you singing along.  I can admit all of these things…I can tell you I like it too; and I can also proudly proclaim that there are many songs that push his craft a lot further than this does.  Essentially, on “What Do You Believe?” you can easily hear the passion that Adam puts into EVERY move he makes…but on the other hand, there’s no arguing the surface-level lyricism that this single has and my point is he can take it much deeper than this & he will over the songs to follow in many instances.  Not all songs are written for that purpose – “What Do You Believe?” is a perfect example of a song written to provide a really damn good time.

For you see…the sincere dimension of Adam’s writing is the one that’s going to really last…so that’s the horse I’m choosing to back when it comes to the different ways he writes his material.  “What Do You Believe?” has already completely proven he can write a Nashville-esque hit and knock it right out of the park – but for me, it’s songs like “Nothing Without You” that reach into that authentic part of his persona to reveal the most real and raw parts of his reason for doing what he does at all.  I think it’s a beautiful mix of melancholy and uplifting sentiment…”Nothing Without You” is just as expertly written and assembled as the album’s opening tune, but seems that much more real instantaneously.  Adam takes on a more Ed Roland-esque sound to the vocal-melody and tone in his voice throughout the verse and brings up the power with great control & a hint of rasp in the chorus.  The observations he makes, imagery he writes into his words and appropriate energy he puts into the vocals all makes perfect sense to the ears; it’s as intense as it is chilled-out at times…there’s a really insightful balance on this track.

“I Know” stands out quickly as the electrifying backup vocals from Felice Hernandez begin to introduce themselves to the mix and to the record – she’ll go on to provide several highlight moments throughout the songs on You.  Together they come out sounding huge together in a more rock-tinged tune from Exler.  Exceptional guitars from Mark Vincent on this cut as well – brilliant breakdown and solo moments in addition to the consistently spot-on energy & tones.  “I Know” drifts a lot closer to the classic sound of rock with its big-stadium sound and chanting chorus…another song that I can certainly hear would go down real smoothly with the masses out there.  It’s one of the more straight-ahead tunes on You, but the band and Exler play it with real flair and rhythm that makes it another hit-worthy tune overall.

I felt like the writing stood out for all the right reasons on “Ground Zero.”  In an odd way, it actually kind of reminded me of the songs on the Scream album from Chris Cornell with its mix of rock-inclinations meeting an electro-environment; but whereas most people just panned that record without even actually listening to it, I loved a lot of those ideas and certainly wanted an artist I admired so greatly to be encouraged to find new angles, depths and approaches to his art.  We should all have that freedom to change…it’s important for an artist and as listeners, the least we can do is give them the support to do that.  “Ground Zero” has Adam sounding closer to Seal’s voice in much of this song, adding a bit more dimension and depth to his performance overall and coming out strongly victorious in one of the records more transitional songs.  Lots of great parts written into this one and its structure leads the song to success – Exler sounds massively powerful on “Ground Zero” and the accenting backup vocals from Hernandez complement and accentuate the punch in the emotion perfectly.  In keeping with like, you know, EVERYTHING we’ve heard so far…there’s little to no doubt that this song too, could be a hit for Adam Exler…he really doesn’t ever seem to miss the mark.  He’s likely largely responsible for much of the music on this one as the main keyboardist in the songs on You, his instrument of choice for years.

With a wicked sliding of guitar-strings, “Rock City” takes the music back into…well…rock-territory of course, it’s a literal title.  More torn on this one than I am on the rest personally, but for those about to rock, I salute you.  Definitely another huge song in terms of its overall sound and stadium-sized approach and a track that certainly reminds us that Exler does indeed, love to rock whenever he can.  He’s right on the edge of the 80’s here when it comes to the chorus, probably a bit too close to Nickelback for others in the verse…it’s almost bizarre to think you can end up taking chances with a more surface-level style of song, but that’s the case.  When a song like “Rock City” is surrounded by more involved ideas and deeper material, it ends up standing out; for some that’ll be a break that leads back into the indisputable good-times…for others they’ll be looking for more from Exler here.

“Dreamers” has some of my favorite lyrics on the record.  Adam leaves behind the pop-culture references and digs deep to bring out the roaring mix of tension and inspiration that expresses being on the cusp of something spectacular perfectly.  Solid sentiment in the words, great choice of effects used on the vocals and I think structurally, there’s more going on for you to chew on; the verse itself flows in clever ways from smooth & straightforward to a more challenging part of its melody as it hits the pre-chorus, then breaks beautifully and powerfully into the song’s chorus.  Adam ends up taking the next verse in what felt like its own style and direction as well, summoning more power to his voice with each passing moment and then releasing it into the atmosphere as he drifts smoothly into the chorus of “Dreamers.”  That’s a highly-memorable hook for certain; if I’m being honest with Adam I think the verse is strong personally and I like the way it’s been written – but I can definitely tell ya for sure that what will stick with listeners out there is the addictive sound of the chorus on “Dreamers” – that’s gold.

Now…whomever snickered at the Cornell comparison earlier on can silence themselves as “Galaxies” begins; it’s not that Exler himself sounds like Cornell – but couldn’t the writing and sound of a track like this fit right in on the Scream album?  I sure think it would fit…and I’m also willing to go to the mat to argue that this is really a style, sound and approach for Adam’s music that is really hitting the mark.  Trying to unpack all the great things about “Galaxies” in words is what separates the good reviewers from the great ones.  You’ve gotta mention the incredible pull in the chorus hook and the way that Exler sounds/sings in the main hooks.  You’ve gotta mention the slow-burning intensity of the melody he creates in the verse.  You’ve gotta mention the amazing bass-lines of David Hughes that make this track come ALIVE alongside the brilliant electro and synths from Exler & Vincent.  You HAVE to mention the outstanding excellence that Felice Hernandez brings to the backup vocals – because she’s absolutely electrifying!  And if you didn’t mention the incredible guitar lines and solos that occur on “Galaxies” well then we just weren’t listening to the same song.  I think you can hear everyone involved is right into this moment and it translates incredibly well onto the recording…the textures, atmosphere, pivotal switches and transitions in the stunning movement of its hypnotic rhythm & groove…I mean…it’s ALL here.  Definitely without a doubt, one of my favorite cuts on Adam’s album; great mix and melody on “Galaxies” that make for maximum entertainment at all times…it’s just straight-up rad to listen to.

“Hideaway” is a sweet tune and takes You into a more intimate and close-up moment that almost sounds like it came right out of the MTV Unplugged era in the recording.  There’s lots I like about this song…Exler gives you plenty to chew on with the structure of the verse and once again gives you that reward through the chorus with an insightfully smooth melody that completely hits the mark.  Mark Vincent is once again a real hero in the solo of this song with one of his own personal highlight moments, the drums from Fernando Jaramillo are brilliantly controlled and the entire energy on “Hideaway” really hits a sweet spot.  As Adam begins to sing, he writes words that absolutely nail the feeling we get in the music with his descriptions and imagery…and then that chorus…is just…soooooooo smooth!  It’s a truly tough song to resist, so just don’t try; let Exler and his crew drift you dreamily through “Hideaway” and just enjoy the nostalgic trip it takes you on.  Between the ideas in the chorus and the backup vocals, this tune sounded closer to something R.E.M. would do in their more tenderized moments…or The Verve Pipe…maybe even some of the earlier material from Zero 7 with the male-lead.  There’s a comforting, innocent and untainted approach that makes “Hideaway” sound extra honest and sincere in the performance and recording…it’s not as bright and flashy as anything we’ve heard on You so far to this point and makes for a real tender break in the record that allows you to think, reflect and really absorb the emotionally-authentic words that Adam is singing.

I still liked “Sailing” after “Hideaway” – but there’s an adjustment here on part of the listening ear that has to occur.  The reasons I liked “Hideaway” are basically flipped upside down to create a song like “Sailing” – which is the rock-ballad essentially done as big as it gets.  I suppose that’s another way of saying it trades the intimacy of what sounded like a small crowd in a living room on “Hideaway” to a lighters-up stadium-standing moment on “Sailing.”  The trading off of verses & backup moments with Hernandez sound perfect and powerful on their own or together – and overall I think it’s the passion in the performance of this tune that connects the most.  Otherwise, “Sailing” has definitely got that like…feeling of an intentional hit at times…call it the ‘Nashville-effect’ if you will – there’s not much about this tune that isn’t engineered and structured to perfectly slide right into your ears.  Now…it’s natural for me to rebel against that feeling…but the versatility in the writing and sound eventually won me over.  “Sailing” could find its way onto pop, rock…maybe even country stations…there’s a lot of influences on this ballad that make it a solid candidate for all kinds of airplay and exposure.  My favorite moments were probably the ones most outside of the formula…I loved the instrumental breaks that quickly revealed the saxophone and I loved the song’s most wildly expressive moments in its ending.  An indisputably well-written tune and a highly accessible melody with spectacular, focused and controlled performances that all hit the mark as professionally as it gets from the music to the microphones.  Bonus points for the Slash-like guitar solo from Vincent in the song’s last minute and the free-style vocal-fills from Hernandez at the end to finish this song in a blaze of real audio fireworks.

Alrighty…so…another indication that this record still might change in between now and when it’s released is that I’m listening to the “Strong Demo” – noted on the list as having no vocals at this time.  So I’d assume those are coming…and I’d certainly encourage Adam to take that time to get it as right as he can because the music that has been created for “Strong” is exactly that.  Really smart keyboards & piano melody from Exler, powerful guitars and drums, great presence and precision from the bass – the structure is equally rewarding to listen to and the entire canvas, in my opinion, is a singer’s dream.  There are so many dramatic elements to the sound and atmosphere of “Strong” that Exler will be able to put something really incredible to this when it’s all said and done.  As awesome as it already is as an instrumental – he’s going to be what takes this song to that next-level it needs and I fully recommend he does.  “Strong” isn’t the kind of idea you abandon – it’s the kind of instrumental you always hope you get the chance to put vocals to as a singer and I’m confident Adam will crush this one appropriately when the time comes – this is perfect for his style of writing, approach and sound.

I’ll say this though…every time that “Strong” came around I really got lost right into its depth and sound – and every time that the record’s title-track “You” came on after, I realized how much darker the overall atmosphere of “Strong” sounded by comparison.  “You” shines with as much brightness, melody and rhythm as a song can present – and that begins immediately, almost jarring you back into the sunshine after the more moody sounds of “Strong” only moments before.  Exler is like a mix of Collective Soul and like…Robert Palmer on “You” – so if you can imagine in your mind just how catchy of a mix those two writing styles and sounds would be like together…then just multiply that by ten and you get this tune from Exler.  I really dig how he’s put the verse together on this cut…the way he’s got the words flowing on “You” is unique, imaginative and highly-creative – and he keeps the melody and rhythm of every syllable bouncing perfectly with the beat.  “You” almost hits a mix of pop/punk at times…it’s pretty damn syrupy-sweet in every sound you’ll hear, so don’t get me wrong – Exler’s not having a Sex Pistols moment here, he’s just amping-up the energy in the bridge.  It all sounds great from verse to chorus and beyond though…relentlessly catchy this title-track most certainly is.  I’d go on to “Inside” and feel much the same, minus the punk-moment…it’s got a similar bright sound to its mix and a focused rhythm & groove that drips with melody from every hook.  Really dig the way that Exler sings this one, he really mixes up the style, sound and energy with tremendous instincts and execution, leading the way for the bouncy rhythm to make its impact.  Backing vocals from Hernandez stand out stunningly once again – but honestly, when haven’t they?  What gave “Inside” the edge for me overall was the transition around the 2:40 mark and how the song lights-up completely for thirty or forty seconds before heading perfectly back into the inviting smoothness in the sound of the main rhythm of the song & drifting out in comfort & style right to the very end.

Stripping back the energy to a more intimate moment on You with “No Pain” – I’d have to check, but without checking I’d assume this is an earlier Exler tune.  Assumption confirmed…this one dates back to his 2010 release The Writing’s On The Wall.  I’m trying to figure out what it is that led me to hear that in this song…”No Pain” still has all the signature style, sound and movements from Exler that we’ve come to know in his songwriting at this point…it might honestly come down to the production on this one by comparison to the rest.  It becomes tougher to tell because the song is also much more sparse musically than the rest, keeping it simple with its rhythm and groove and letting the melody speak for itself…so dialing it back like that can also have somewhat the same effect…but it still sounded a little dustier to me than the rest of the songs on You did.  The guitar solo from Vincent is absolutely jaw-dropping on this cut and the vocal melody in the chorus is spot-on the money; “No Pain” is a good song, I have no doubt about that…but yeah…it sounds…early in the course of his writing and career.  So…hmm…I suppose if I was to advise Exler on this particular inclusion, I’d probably say something to the effect of there being a time where we have to let those songs we’ve written be and continue to move on.  “No Pain” has already had its moment on a separate album…and that’s always something to consider unless you really are going for that greatest-hits collection.  In terms of keeping the approach and sound as fresh as it gets and cohesive to the sound we’ve become accustomed to, “No Pain” and “The Writing’s On The Wall” would need to brighten up and shake that dust off a little.  Could just be the way I’m hearing it…but likely, there’s a noticeable difference that others would hear as well.  In terms of the songs themselves, both “No Pain” and “The Writing’s On The Wall” both have solid hooks, writing and musicianship and still meet the exceptional standards set along the way.  Loved the keyboard solos towards the end of “The Writing’s On The Wall” – my old man’s a professional keyboard player and it’s always awesome to hear music that makes time for them to shine like this.  Exler has definitely written solid material from the moment he began to put it out there and I think these tunes both speak to that; a slight tune-up in a remix would absolutely have these sounding like they fit right in with the rest.

“Rain” seems to bring the levels back up to the clarity and sound he’s looking for on one of the record’s final and most unique tunes.  To me, “Rain” really sparkles with sincerity and the extraordinary instincts that define great songwriters – it really sounds like Exler has connected with these words he’s singing and every time he truly does, it makes all the difference.  He’s always into the moment – that goes without saying at this point…but at times throughout the record you can really feel those moments where the words mean more to him and I felt like “Rain” was definitely one of those songs.  Musically there’s so much going on inside of an incredibly chilled out environment that sounds like it drifts between a nearly orchestral arrangement at times to a smooth island style of classical acoustic on the beach.  Beautiful backing vocals perfectly complement the lead from Exler and the main melodies & hooks in the song…and yeah…I think thumbs up to this tune for being more than diverse in its ideas and bringing stunning sound to the music to create a really atmospheric track that Adam excels within.  There are rough-edges to the rasp on his voice here…stylistic choices I assure you.  To me, again, it’s moments like those that add real character and charm to his words, taking it from a place of not being just about ‘what’ he sings about into ‘how’ he chooses to sing the lyrics…it adds raw honesty and depth.

“Here I Am” shifts the final moments of the record into a light blues-rock that shows yet another dimension of Adam Exler’s music.  It might be closer to what you’d imagine a Bonnie Raitt song sung with a male lead – but I’m going down swinging in my commitment to this STILL not being ‘rockabilly’ – and I think that’s a good thing in my opinion.  Don’t get me wrong – rockabilly music still has its place and certainly has its fans – but I can almost guarantee more people seeing that label and potentially not giving the music its fair shake.  Considering that these songs don’t fit the freewheeling silliness that can typically come along with that genre, I’m just saying he’s gotta consider how he puts it out there to the masses.  Going with something even more generic like rock alone is going to yield more traffic than heading into specifics, know what I mean?  Anyhow…I promised you all I’d revisit that point – but other than that, I’m off on a tangent here…”Here I Am” does a great job of sending us off with an inspired performance that once again hits the mark, catchy as ever as Exler has proven to be time and again throughout the course of the entire record.  Ending it strongly with those amazing highlights on the keys and in Hernandez’s electrifying backup vocalizations, great sliding guitars full of amazing tones…maybe even a trumpet or two in the mix if my ears don’t deceive me…Exler’s a proven songwriter by the time that You is finished.  Every song has really sparkled with the magic of real songwriting, passion and commitment – and as a result, You comes out sounding like genuine entertainment from beginning to end.

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