Blind Pilot | We Are The Tide
album review by Maren Johnson
When Israel Nebeker (guitar, vocals) and Ryan Dombrowski (drums) began a bicycle tour of small venues on the West coast in 2007, it would have probably been hard to imagine them appearing on the stages of massive festivals like Lollapalooza or Sasquatch!, but along and with Luke Ydstie (upright bass), Kati Taborn (banjo, dulcimer), Ian Krist (vibraphone), and Dave Jorgensen (keyboard, trumpet), what has become Blind Pilot managed to do all that.
For those familiar BP’s Three Rounds and a Sound, We Are The Tide will be a comforting return to the skilled instrumentation and inviting vocals. The recent album raises the complexity of musical arrangements to really stretch their talents, but the variety that the group as a whole had captured in their earlier work gets a little lost in the process. The album as a whole has a good sense of pacing, with the energetic “We Are The Tide” picking up the pace almost halfway through and “New York” to tie up the emotional threads which have been laid out in many of the previous songs with an indication of growth, and the ten songs together have a definite cohesiveness. In fact, We Are The Tide might be almost too cohesive – while it changes tempo and mood throughout, I feel like they’re definitely capable of a much broader range of emotion. I like when Blind Pilot gets a little more aggressive and plays something unexpected – “I Know” strays about as far into that territory as they get.
“Half Moon” does a great job as an introductory track with rich string undertones and an upbeat drum line that carries throughout the song. The group shows off their vocal skills with some sparkling harmonies, which are really showcased with a moment of a capella singing near the end. They slide almost seamlessly into the much more instrumentally simplistic “Always,” which, while including many of the instruments typically seen in Blind Pilot’s arrangements, definitely focuses on Nebeker’s vocals.
“Keep You Right” left me a little bored – the entire song got pretty repetitive, with little variation in tune, harmony structure, and instrumentation – but they jumped right back with the infectiously catchy “We Are the Tide.” The title track of the album has a great featured trumpet line that soars above the other instruments and some thoughtful lyrics like: “I walked a year to hear a howl in this give and take/ But hear it this way – hear it this way.” It ends a little abruptly, but ultimately stands out as a great success.
They slow it down a bit for “The Colored Night,” which has an emotional and nostalgic feel that’s relatable and poignant. “Make me a mirror of/ All that I cannot love/ Let me hold the cast/ Of my favorite years,” Nebeker sings over a quiet drumbeat and simple guitar, and the other instruments join in with an equal wistful quality during the chorus and the last moments of the song.
“I Know” shows a bit of attitude that I really wish Blind Pilot would whip out more often. I love when they get a little pissed off, and the spunky guitar that comes out during the verses (which gets lost during the chorus for the most part) has a kick-ass feeling that’s cool without being too aggressive. The following “White Apple” is a great mostly-acoustic track that features some absolutely poetic lines such as “I’m bringing nothing with me I mean to save/ This faint sweetness, this wick of light/ This white apple full of bites.” There’s an energizing turnaround most of the way through the song, which I personally think keeps the song from being a commonplace ballad and makes it into something interesting to follow musically.
Neither of the next two tracks really struck me – while “Just One” has a catchy chorus tune and “Get It Out” bounces back at the end for a strong finish, it’s not until the final track that they rope me back in again. “New York” thrums with the feeling of bittersweet parting, with simple bass undertones and a steady drum beat. Despite the loss, there’s some driving encouragement in their lyrics: “I got wise and I got old/ Not once, not once did I fall/ So don’t you now,” sings Nebeker during the often-repeated chorus, elaborated with some almost ethereal harmonies. “New York” is one of Blind Pilot’s best so far, and it’s the perfect ending for the album: heartfelt, hopeful, and memorable.
Ultimately, We Are The Tide does a great job showcasing the musical talent that the Blind Pilot crew obviously has, and shows notable growth from Three Rounds and a Sound without losing the good vibes they started with. I’d love to see them push their boundaries even a little more and break away from the slow and sweet to the fast and furious (well, maybe not furious – more like mildly pissed off). If We Are The Tide has one shortcoming, it’s the lack of variety. Even though each song on its own has great things going for it, the album as a whole gets a little flat by the end. I expect great things from Blind Pilot in the future, and will continue to keep my eye on them.
Bottom line: Skilled musicians take on more music that vocal creativity, but ultimately score with a heck of a record.