Although Young and Courageous is Tides of Man’s third studio album, it is their first attempt at an entirely instrumental record. The band parted ways with distinctive vocalist Tilian Pearson in 2010, following the release of sophomore album Dreamhouse, their second release through Rise Records. The band auditioned for a replacement for Pearson but couldn’t find the right spark, as guitarist Spencer Gill explains: “what we were getting was an imitation of what we were before…We felt like we had evolved musically. Putting that voice on top of our newer music just wasn’t fitting.” After a period of soul searching, Tides of Man decided to commit to life as an instrumental band. Young and Courageous is the result of this reinvention and it is breath-taking.
The album opens with a lonely guitar line that gradually builds in volume, tension and layers until it bursts into a towering crescendo that sets the tone beautifully for the succeeding ten tracks. The musicians of the band showed their technical prowess through their two previous albums, Empire Theory and Dreamhouse, but the effects were muted alongside Pearson’s vocals. Now their musicianship has nowhere to hide and it positively glows under the spotlight. The guitar work is multi-layered and intricate against a tight and accentuating rhythm section. This is complimented by changes in time signature and tempo, making the record rich, varied and interesting.
Despite there being no vocals, Young and Courageous feels surprisingly lyrical. Each song possesses its own unique sense of melody that hooks you in early and carries you along on a wave of ambient guitar lines, swelling rhythms and uplifting drum patterns. I was surprised to find myself whistling some of the album’s melodies hours after listening, which is rare with instrumental records. The most compelling part of this album though is the level of immersion that it generates for the listener. Some albums can be played in the background to provide ambience while you work and others can entertain you while running or working out. Young and Courageous demands attention. Songs build from simple ideas that blossom into epic, uplifting anthems, accentuated by crushing crescendos that burst with emotion and soul. In these moments it’s difficult to concentrate on anything else as guitars, frustrated from being held back under muted atmospheric chords, ring passionately and loud, and every last decibel of sound is hammered from the cymbals.
Although some tracks take time to build and grow, nothing feels wasted, as though each bar has been carefully calculated to provide the optimum level of suspense before the impending transitions occur. This helps Young and Courageous tell a story through its songs, weaving atmosphere and tension throughout the album. This effect is compounded by the superb production provided by Spencer Bradham at ClearTrack Studios. The tones are crisp and clear, giving each instrument clear definition, as well as huge walls of atmospheric sound at the peaks of the crescendos.
Young and Courageous is an album that may never have been. Had the band found a replacement for Pearson, or had this self-released album not generated the funds it needed through its IndieGoGo campaign, they may have taken a very different path. As it is, each track dances by with a natural grace and elegance that belies this being Tides of Man’s debut in the instrumental post-rock world. If Young and Courageous symbolises a brave, infant step into a new genre, then I can hardly contain my excitement for the future when this sound matures, and its personality develops.