Audio Mixer: Peter Katis.
Recording information: Flora Recording & Playback, Portland, OR; Type Foundry, Portland, OR.
Photographer: Ben Moon.
Their debut with the ATO label, And Then Like Lions is the long-awaited third LP from indie folk-pop stylists Blind Pilot. Despite the description, they're not to be mistaken for part of the post-Mumford crowd of jamboree makers. Rather, Israel Nebeker and group have stayed anchored to a more reflective, singer/songwriter aesthetic during the five years since 2011's We Are the Tide. Still operating as six-piece, And Then Like Lions also shares that album's efficient arrangements, which only occasionally sound like a band of that size. Written by Nebeker in the aftermath of a series of personal traumas, including the breakup of a 13-year romantic relationship and the death of his father (artist Royal Nebeker), the material is, if anything, even less poppy here. Reserved in every way but melodically, "Umpqua Rushing" opens the record with a slow build of varied acoustic and electric members of the guitar family, quiet electronics, and percussion. Inspired by a scenic region of Oregon and how memories and emotion can be tied to a place, it's an elegant opener, one that signals what's to come. Another nature-themed entry, "Moon at Dawn," has the album's haziest atmosphere, with layers of sustained guitars, backing vocals, horns, and even vibraphone. A brighter selection is "Packed Powder," with rich vocal harmonies and livelier rhythms that are mirrored later on "Which Side I'm On." The hopeful campfire ballad "Don't Doubt" is another track that, though affecting in its own way, balances the tone of the more somber songs. Album standout "What Is Yet" has an over-one-minute-long orchestral intro that leads into a bluesy lament. Both an acoustic guitar-and-banjo tune and a fully arranged chamber piece with strings and horns, it shows what the group has in reserve. The sparser songs here have everything they need, however, and that's the album's most impressive feat, even topping memorable melodies: a feeling of stability in the territory of loss. ~ Marcy Donelson