Blind Pilot’s sound grows deeper with its sophomore release We Are The Tide
:: Blind Pilot ::
By Matthew Treon
Blind Pilot’s music is a sturdy mix of chamber music and rock and roll, laced with equal parts optimism and weariness. Built on a solid folk-pop foundation, style abounds with every layer that makes up this Portland-based sextet’s elegant arrangements. But underneath it all, intimacy and honesty is the name of the game.
Blind Pilot’s new album We Are The Tide is a personal and energetic view into the heart of an exceptional songwriter, Israel Nebeker, and his remarkable collective of musically inclined cronies.
Much like their well refined debut album 3 Rounds and a Sound (2008), the songs on We Are The Tide are grounded in rhythm and melody, drenched with harmonies and compelling instrumentation, and as energetic as they are soft spoken. Nebeker’s voice is edged with rasp and full of sincerity, and he’s accompanied by a mélange of drums and percussion from Ryan Dobrowski, banjo and dulcimer playing by Kati Claborn, trumpet and organ via Dave Jorgensen, Luke Ydstie on bass, and Ian Krist on vibraphone.
But We Are The Tide also tracks new sonic territory, with Nebeker trading his acoustic guitar for an electric on a few tracks and more piano from multiple members of the band (as well as the contributions from Nathan Crockett on violin and Joel Meredith on pedal steel).
Nebeker’s lyrics are as fresh and brooding as ever, but go farther into an outward-looking exploration of a man watching himself in the world. In this new set of ten songs, Nebeker sets free a thoughtful study that’s based as much on desire as on doubt. There is also an added sense of lushness in the production of the album, but fortunately, none of the band’s tasteful aesthetic is lost in the polish — it’s still well-crafted songwriting over sonic innovation.
“The ideas start with Ryan and I sitting down together,” explained Nebeker in a recent interview with The Marquee. “Then, knowing the band and imagining what would happen later, and imagining other things happening, helped make them appealing, even with their darker and more difficult subject mater.”
On an album full of appealing moments, the high-water mark comes with the rapturous title track “We Are The Tide.”
“That was the first song we wrote after we released 3 Rounds and a Sound,” Nebeker said. “So we’ve been playing it almost as long as we’ve been touring as a band.” The arrangement thrives on the propulsive percussion that relentlessly rolls forward (and dares you not to dance along). And its lyrics are imbued with themes of nature, the effects of one’s environment, and the immutability of passion.
If you’ve ever been to Portland, traversed the diverse Pacific Northwest, or driven the Oregon coast, it’ll come at no surprise that Nebeker naturally finds inspiration in his environment. As he explained it, “If I’m stuck on a song I’ll just walk wherever I am, and the landscape always ends up getting in the song — even if it’s not literal examples of the landscape. This album, half of it was written out in Astoria [on the coast]or in Portland, some of it on tour, and for some of it Ryan and I went down the North Carolina coast for a month, and came up with some song ideas out there. It seemed fitting to me to have different locations.”
This diverse topographical set of influences lent itself nicely to the added assortment of instruments in a band already sporting a myriad of sounds. “Recording this album,” Nebeker said, “we experimented with different instruments. We had all the songs written the way we played them live before we went into the studio. But it doesn’t always translate to tape and still sound the way it does in a room. So we were trying out lots of different things, and one thing that came out of it was electric guitar, and Dave was playing Hammond organ, so we worked those things into the set after the album was finished.”
On the song “Keep You Right,” Nebeker sings, “Never have I been so far from home” and, “My heart longs for too much and mine eyes have hardly seen enough to know its need. And never does it stop or slow.” And it’s this dichotomous conflict (such dichotomies being a running theme across the board with Blind Pilot’s music) that seems to be a driving force in a band trying to make home on the road for so much of the year. “We’re in an old school bus,” Neberker said. “And we converted it to have bunks and a kitchen and a place to play and record music, and it’s great touring with it. Walking to the bus always feels like walking home whatever city we’re in.” As Nebeker sings on “We Are The Tide,” “Our tide is ever on the road, the ride is in what we make.”
:: Blind Pilot ::
:: Bluebird Theater :: November 15 ::
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