Album reviews: Blind Pilot, Tori Amos - Reverb

Album reviews: Blind Pilot, Tori Amos

Blind Pilot, “We Are the Tide” (Expunged)

Israel Nebeker and his band had the unenviable task of following up a lauded debut LP that was both a critic’s darling and an indie fan favorite.

Portland, Ore.-based Blind Pilot’s debut, 2008’s “3 Rounds and a Sound,” captured our imaginations and introduced us to an important new songwriter, Nebeker, whose fresh approach to literate chamber-pop music was both emotional and impressionistic. The record grew as the band got the word out, first via a self-produced bicycle tour of the West Coast and later via opening slots for the Decemberists and large festival appearances.

With last week’s release of “We Are the Tide,” fans will know Nebeker even better — even though it’s not the release many expected.

The methodical and mellow new record is every bit as luscious as “3 Rounds,” but whereas Blind Pilot’s debut was an eyes-wide- open exploration of a new world, “We Are the Tide” is a more thoughtful, melancholic treatise that looks in the rearview mirror while sounding more assured than ever.

“Get It Out” is a charmer, with its hushed memories and even quieter drum work. “Keep You Right” shows Nebeker’s continued love of instrumental layering and vocal harmonies. Fans of the Shins and Cloud Cult could easily fall for this band and its uncanny ease with melody.

But the centerpiece here is the title track, of course. Fans of Blind Pilot’s stunning live shows are familiar with “We Are the Tide,” a song the band has been playing live for more than a year. And while the island percussion is more intense in concert, this recorded version is a sunny jaunt that reveals a new side of Blind Pilot —- one that could easily provide the band with a crossover to more popular channels.

Tori Amos, “Night of Hunters” (Deutsche Grammophon)

Will the casual Tori Amos fan find something to love in her latest, “Night of Hunters,” out today? Not likely, unless he or she is an experienced classical-music aficionado.

That’s no slam on Amos, who has created her most skillful (and perhaps most complex) concept album to date. A commission from Deutsche Grammophon, “Night of Hunters” is a modern work that is inspired by classical music going back to the days of Bach, Schubert, Mendelssohn and others.

Fans of Amos’ easy-on-the-ears piano-pop of the ’90s — think “Little Earthquakes,” “Under the Pink” and “Boys for Pele” — will not find those memorable hooks, those angsty lyrics, here. But fans of her more recent work will find the dizzying narratives and familiar characters that have since become the singer- songwriter’s preference.

The playing is distinctively Amos, with towering pianos guiding the way through all turns. Her voice is of course as singular as it has ever been, and she even gets some help from her talented daughter, 11-year-old Natasha, on vocal duets that were clearly planned since birth.

But this is a hard turn for Amos, a return to her classical roots and an exercise in composition that won’t catch the fancy of many of her fans. That said, her fans are loyal, and they’ll still be waiting when she comes back with something more accessible.

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Ricardo Baca is the founder and executive editor of Reverb, the co-founder of The UMS and an award-winning critic and journalist at The Denver Post.

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