Is Blind Pilot a folk outfit playing indie rock or indie rockers playing folk music? Singer/guitarist Israel Nebeker and drummer Ryan Dobrowski operate out of an acoustic setting but their mellow yet hooky tunes have more in common with indie rock outfits than folky troubadours. This Portland, OR-based group winds up being something like Beck or the Shins doing easygoing folksy tunes or Iron & Wine with a poppier sensibility. Whatever genre equation you want to use to describe them, it’s easy to say that Blind Pilot have come up with a winning music plan. The opening tune “Oviedo” sets the course that they chart throughout the debut full-length. Against some laid-back guitar strumming and gentle drumming, Nebeker warmly sings his hazy but quirky lyrics, which seem like private language of personal confessions (“Four times is once too much for luck and that’s how many times the clock struck/I wandered home saying your name”). As the song easies along, the arrangement gets fleshed out with muted horns and banjo picking. Nebeker nicely doubles his voice at times, but his singing maintains his intimate, hushed tones. In “Paint or Pollen,” he builds a set of beguiling images (“Milk in your water, black in your primer, wood in your brush”) to express that “the best is upon us.” While having an interesting way with words, Nebeker isn’t one for direct sentiment. He is a bit more overt in his affection on the title track, where he sings “My eyes were dark ’till you woke me.” While “The Bitter End” deals with death, it doesn’t dip heavily in morbidity as Nebeker expresses his emotions through personal but semi-obscure references to “hounds-tooth coats and vitamins.” For all of its off-the-cuff musical vibe, Blind Pilot also exhibits a fine sense of craftsmanship. The vibraphone that weaves through “One Red Thread” subtly expands the song’s sonic landscape while subdued horns show up again to bolster the woozy melody in “I Buried a Bone.” “Two Towns from Me,” meanwhile, feels like an indie pop tune performed at half-speed but works wonderfully in its own right. 3 Rounds and a Sound is one of those discs where the whole is greater than its parts. They may not be creating something wildly innovative, but Nebeker, Dobrowski, and their crew, in their own low-key way, have fashioned an impressive amalgam of rustic folk-pop and indie rock. They definitely have Blind Pilot headed in the right direction.
This Portland band exploded onto scene on the strength of this record, which is now finally available re-mastered on limited 180gm vinyl. They toured the West Coast from Bellingham to San Diego via bicycle before hitting up all the big festivals in 2009. Dig the rustic folk-pop stylings!