Losing a frontman is the most difficult transitive event that can occur with a band. Often times the stress of trying to pick a new singer and adapt your sound to that new voice is too much to bear and the band decides to call it quits instead of naming a replacement, like what happened last year to Daytrader. Other times the frontman position becomes a revolving door of different voices and personalities, none of them gelling with the rest of the band members or living up to the promise of the original singer (bands like Close Your Eyes have suffered through this fate). Still other times, a new frontman takes the band to new heights unimagined by the band with the original singer, resulting in a newfound creative strength, as was the case when Adam Lazzara took over for Antonio Longo in Taking Back Sunday.
The case of Tides of Man breaks the mold of the above three scenarios entirely. When the band’s lead vocalist and lyricist Tilian Pearson left, first for Dance Gavin Dance and later for a solo album as well, the future of the band seemed uncertain. They posted that they were soliciting auditions for a new vocalist through the band’s email account. They released a demo that sounded like their previous album Dreamhouse with Tilian’s vocals removed. But then they announced the piece of news that would change the course of their band entirely: They would transition to a post-rock songwriting style and release an album without a vocalist or lyrics. The news came as a surprise to the band’s fanbase, with some praising the evolution while other were quick to eulogize them. But, with all this said, did Tides of Man make the right decision?
Young and Courageous, the band’s third full-length album, takes many of its musical cues from post-rock peers Russian Crcles, Caspian, and This Will Destroy You. While this release certainly doesn’t reinvent the wheel for post-rock, it is a well-written and moving take on the style by a band who is clearly confident in their musical prowess. They float between their former progressive rock time signature manipulation to lilting guitar runs; from quick hi-hat rolls to sweeping crash-cymbal heavy crescendos. And they do it all with the poise and attachment of a band that has been writing together in this style for years.
The maturity at play here is evident in pretty much every aspect. It’s pretty clear from just a few listens through Young and Courageous that although they have done away with the vocals and much of the accompanying style of the previous iteration of the band, the Tilian Pearson-era still has a positive influence here. While young post-rock bands typically want to build and build to finish the song “with a bang,” Tides of Man bring an almost storyteller-like approach to the musical landscapes of their song. The songs have a rising action, piquing the interest of the listener before building to a climax. But instead of that climax accompanying the end of the song, there is often a falling action which gives the songs a sense of closure. “We Were Only Dreaming” is a perfect example of how this storytelling arc is at play. The song builds with a crash cymbal beat straight out of Moving Mountains musical playbook and a beautiful keyboard line overtop it all, before everything cuts out at 4:14 into the song- everything except a simple finger-picked guitar line. The flourish adds a gorgeous denouement to the track, and rounds out the story that the music is telling.
In fact, the music contained within Young and Courageous is beautiful in a certain way that allows listeners to attach their own experiences and emotions to the tracks contained within. It is a characteristic that only certain pieces of music maintain. I often found myself attach my own stories and connections to the tracks, an ability I don’t think would’ve been possible with a vocal backing. I don’t think the touching little piano run that accompanies the soundscapes of album highlight would have been better with vocals. In fact, I love that the only vocals come in the form of harmonies chanted during the epic closing track “Measure Your Breath.” The vocals kick in as the album nears a close, as if to remind the listener that a person’s voice is a musical instrument just like any other; no more or less important, but valuable in its own right. It’s a subtle, but wonderful, message to Tides of Man’s detractors.
And there will certainly be detractors- people who say Tides of Man was better as a progressive rock band, or as a band with lyrics, or with Tilian Pearson’s wonderful, high-pitched croon over the instrumentals herein. I am not one of those detractors. Tides of Man has proven to me that they are capable of delivering a wonderful musical product whether or not they have the support of a frontman. When announcing that they would be releasing an instrumental album, Tides of Man announced they would be releasing it “in the meantime” while trying to find a lead singer. After hearing how captivating a release Young and Courageous is, a large part of me hopes that “in the meantime” becomes “full time” and Tides of Man can go on to become one of my favorite post-rock bands. They have a chance to take fill in the hole that has resided in my heart since Moving Mountains went on hiatus. The only thing that is stopping them is the perception that they can’t survive without a vocalist.