Sunday, May 9, 2010

Blind Pilot - Three Rounds and a Sound

Rating: C+

The first time I listened to Blind Pilot's Three Rounds and a Sound, I was on an airplane. It was an international flight, a redeye to Spain, and I wanted to sleep. Three Rounds was perfect. Mid-tempo tunes with acoustic guitars, gentle melodies, occasional horns or banjos providing texture and not violence. Listening to the album, I closed my eyes. I never fell into a deep sleep, but I was drifting in and out. I very much enjoyed Three Rounds.

The problem is, the album doesn't hold up as well in other contexts. It's quiet, repetitive, lovely, delicate and dull. Individual songs are fine, but listening to Three Rounds as an album is just track-and-track of the same thing. There are definitely high spots - the chorus to the closing title track and the background horns on opener "Oviedo," to name two. But mostly it's just pleasant: typical is "I Buried a Bone," which just plods along quietly through its verses and chorus before giving way to a Spanish-tinged horn solo. It's immediately followed by "Things I Cannot Recall," which follows a similar formula. There's just not that much going on here.

The "folky music but with horns" motif is likely to draw comparisons to two of my favorite bands, Okkervil River and Neutral Milk Hotel, but those bands are at their best when they're unhinged, when Will Sheff starts screaming in "For Real" or Jeff Mangum goes crazy in "Holland, 1945." Even their more subdued stuff teeters on the brink of sanity: Sheff's voice gives away his buried anger in "A Stone," and the haunting theremins in "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea" give it an outer-spaciness. Blind Pilot is not like this. Lead singer Israel Nebeker mostly plays it safe, only stretching himself in "The Story I Heard."

The album's iTunes "hit," "Go On, Say It" shows the flaws with the group. The rhythm is a fine generic mid-tempo. The vocals are laconic in a way that evokes a shimmering dessert. The chorus gets punched a bit with a string section. And the ending repetition of "Go on, say it right" just begs for Nebeker to let himself go ... and he doesn't. It falls flat. The whole album is like that. Three rounds and a sound, maybe. But the sound is a whimper, not a bang.

Buy it from Amazon:
3 Rounds and a Sound
Blind Pilot's MySpace

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