Brad Peterson’s personal journey over the last few years, primarily a severe spinal injury that left him struggling to brush his teeth and required several years of recovery, informs many of the thirteen songs on his full length release The Ellipsis Album. The Chicago based singer/songwriter is no stranger to success and widespread attention, having shared stages with acts like Radiohead, and the new release finds his considerable talents not only intact, but undoubtedly enriched by experience and a further honing of his craft. He covers a lot of stylistic bases on this new album and does so with a fluidity that will prove inspiring to listeners and fellow musicians alike. In notable contrast to his earlier efforts, Peterson handled all the essential creative duties required to bring this album to the marketplace but there isn’t a single moment when his DIY approach to album-making doesn’t pay dividends of some sort. Few albums you hear in 2017 speak as directly to listeners.
“What the Open Heart Allows” begins The Ellipsis Album in a memorable way. There is a smattering of electronics used here to add further color, but the song largely has a traditional slant and Peterson’s vocals cut through the mix for gripping effect. Many of the songs on The Ellipsis Album clearly began with an acoustic guitar and this is no different, but it’s a measure of where his talent is that Peterson builds these songs with such patience and confidence. There are a number of low-key musical touches in this song that make it a more all-encompassing listening experience, but the same elements making the opener so memorable are present here as well – strong, often multi-tracked, vocals alongside muscular percussion and inventive structures that make the most out of nominally traditional forms. There’s some deliciously raucous electric guitar on the song “Clap Your Hands” and the slightly disjointed feel never threatens to alienate listeners. Peterson takes full advantage of the moment and unleashes an equally wild-eyed vocal that fits the song quite nicely.
The same wild-eyed attitude carries over to the song “Just in Time” but Peterson’s lyrics reach for an universality of experience not available on many of the other songs. This has a much stronger pop edge than the earlier tracks and the melodic strengths shine through. “All Roads Lead to Home” has a much more pronounced electronic character than the earlier tracks but it never drains the performance of either warmth or humanity. Instead, Peterson juggles the seemingly disparate elements in the arrangement and hits on just the right balance to make this song stick in the listener’s consciousness. “Underwear” is another highlight thanks to its comedic aspect, but there’s a genuine sense of desire and longing coming off this track that makes the humor all the more endearing. It has an inexplicably big chorus with an unexpected hook and Peterson, to his credit, embraces the hook rather than running from it. Melancholy returns with the song “Letters Never Sent” and the slightly ornate, post-modern folk posturing composing this song works exceptionally well thanks to its compelling arrangement and a dollop of pop creeping in along the edges. The album’s penultimate tune “Keep Calm (the sea lion sleeps tonight)” has the same emotional firepower present on each of the songs, but it also takes on the idiosyncratic pop edges tingeing many of the tracks. His vocals stand out once again on this track. The Ellipsis Album is, by any standard, a resounding success.