Review Summary: Facing life head on, Blind Pilot bring a return that while not triumphant - is absolutely necessary for the next step in Nebeker’s career.
Digging into the backstory of what has become the third studio effort from the Portland based folk sextet Blind Pilot, a return from five years of dead air off the heels of the group’s We Are The Tide tour. One is quick to discover how a group on the hot seat of indie pop fame, spending their days touring up and down the west coast and hitting up beer manufacturers for publicity, took a sudden, unexplained “hiatus”. And Then Like Lions
is a dedication as much as it's a personal reflection for Blind Pilot frontman Israel Nebeker, whom dedicates the album to the loss of his father, Royal, along with the abrupt end of a 13 year relationship.
The coming loss of both shape and mold the direction of this record as an extreme contrast to the group’s previous, which jumped and moved with a texture of fun and life, into a quiet and reserved record which favors subtlety and lyricism above all else. Perhaps not as exciting for a band previously known for their grander songwriting, the product this record pushes is an important and absolutely necessary move for Nebeker’s career. Album opener “Umpqua Rushing” is quick to push the record’s heavy handed material on the mark. Set to the tune of heavenly, quiet guitar leads and equally soft keys and acoustic strums for atmosphere, Israel articulates his feelings of the end of his ‘13 year relationship’ with his life love to a comparison of the vast Umpqua Forests, in which he describes both his ‘lost one’ and himself as burning forests with no real direction.
Gloomy as the metaphor may be, the end half of the song redirects attention to a more positive, yet bittersweet realization that gripping on to the feelings of loss aren’t worth it and that moving on is the better course of action. It all calls for a painful, yet beautiful track that keeps subtlety on the high end and delivers heavy handed songwriting that stabs even in the face of its simplistic nature. And Then like Lions
as a whole thematically attempts to break a smile in a time of absolute dread. A record that attempts to see the bright side of the darkest night. This proves to be the record’s greatest running dynamic, as the first half of the record explores a morbid groundwork for the record at the expanse of Nebeker's sanity. In the almost comedic 'upbeat' record of the track, "Packed Powder" the track follows Nebeker attempting to find footing through mundane tasks such as getting oddball jobs in an attempt to find joy.
Meanwhile “Which Side I’m On” sees Nebeker fall flat on his face in an attempt to fight off the weight on his shoulders with the proclamation that “I have done wrong”
and a depressing follow up just a few lines later claiming "I have lost"
as all emotional faucets come pouring in. The instrumental work for the record help pronounce Nebeker’s powerful lyricism and performance with subtle instrumental work that layers simplistic melodies for incredibly effective and encapsulating arrangements. The record isn’t all doom and gloom however, as the final stretch of Nebeker's storyline details the time in which Nebeker spent with his dad during the final stretch of his life. Here Nebeker finds the footing he so desperately sought for with beautifully layered horn work, ambient synths, and an accompanying female vocalist. All of which help create the tracks “It Was Enough”, the records concluding title track, and “What Is Yet”. The record indulges on grander instrumental work here, with a slowly growing violin line on “What Is Yet” and rougher mixed vocals that help reflect a louder tone that suggest the idea of standing up after hitting the ground.
This coincidentally leads to the heartfelt finale and title track that details a story shared by Nebeker’s father about the time his nephews stood up to bullies “like lions”. Which overall captures the very message of the record, which calls to stand up against the problems in life as strong as “lions”, facing and failing the dangers and problems in life but still holding on to see each passing day in a beautiful 'compare and contrast' lyric style. It concludes on that triumphant note seen on previous records in a completely different light. One that is brave, bold, and ready to face the next chapter in life even if it is being faced alone. While the idea sounds a little corny, it is the one to aspire for at the end of the day. The one that makes Nebeker strong in his own special way.
“I think of this album as a conversation about different kinds of loss and the courage we find when we face loss honestly, cracked open and unsure of what we will become, which is the only real way to face it.”
- Israel Nebeker