It’s been nearly three years since we’ve – officially – heard Tilian Pearson’s voice on a track he can call his own. Since his departure from Tides of Man, many have followed closely, curious and excited for what was in store for such a unique and compelling voice. But in the end, his latest release is not with The Sound Archives, it is not with Saosin. It is on his own. And it is not what we’ve come to expect. Material Me is new ground for the dynamic post-hardcore vocalist. This decision, no matter how heartfelt, can be and often is a death sentence for an artist. Fortunately for us, this is not the case with this debut solo album. In fact, it is a glimpse at a side of a familiar artist that we have never seen.
Immediately, there is a fluttering and spirited use of traditional and electronic instrumentation that forms a lively amalgamation with Tilian’s soft and sincere vocals. “Now or Never” uses this formula in a slow, kick-based manner that allows more room for expression and features a rapidly delivered and soulful guest appearance by Tyler Carter. Songs like “Someday,” “You’ll Forget Me Soon” (which features the lovely voice of Sofia Sweet) and “Flutter” follow suit, heavily led by thick kick step-oriented undertones and slower, though varied, tempos in a way that meshes the aura of The Postal Service, Passion Pit’s Gossamer and Lydia’s Paint It Golden. Such tracks convey chin-up, toe-tappingly infectious rhythms that may be repeated a few too many times for one’s liking but give strength to Tilian’s first album of this genre. There is much to be commended on at the blend of indie and pop as one or the other usually falls apart, yet they manage to stay intact and balanced on Material Me.
However, it feels as if Tilian fully comes into his own near the halfway mark, beginning with the album’s first single “Chemicals.” With a fresh refinement on the album’s final mix, Tilian’s voice soars to new heights and leaves a lasting impression on Material Me, providing the most accessible and colorful chorus, complete with vocoder-effected vocals, spastic synth lines and hints of dubstep in the reprieve. It’s fully equipped for a feel-good electronic track. Then comes “Up in the Air,” which immediately sounds as if it could earn Tilian a spot in commercial advertising or movie trailers (and that’s a compliment, by the way, in the same manner that Passion Pit and fun are achieving such notoriety). Decisively equipped with the most heartfelt delivery, the song is uplifting, encouraging and features a flavor of utmost sincerity, a rather uncommon element in the growing electronic/pop genre. Two tracks later, and this quality shines brightly for the last time on Material Me. “Favor,” a reworked version of an old demo, has been revamped and improved, forming something in the vein of Dreamhouse but at a consistency that blends right into Material Me and manages to stand out as the strongest track on the album.
Once all is said and done, maybe that’s the reason why “Favor” is my, and undoubtedly many others’, personal favorite: it is most reminiscent of his older work, a flavor of what we know and love. And therein lies Material Me’s greatest potential weakness. Simply put, it is not Empire Theory part two or Dreamhouse part two, which will disappoint a certain few. It is not the album we’ve come to expect from Tilian Pearson. It’s a different soundscape and environment; a new setting that will jolt casual fans, who will then clamor for the return of a more aggressive, full band sound. But so what? After the adjustment has been made, listeners will recognize that Tilian’s voice is set nicely into a genre that they may not have thought of otherwise. It’s a pleasant entry into new territory for Tilian and an exciting chapter of his career. Should there be another solo album, you can be sure that he will be more familiar with the craft and will put just as much time and energy as he has into Material Me. For now, it is a solid reflection of the artist himself and his versatility as a musician. It may take a listen or two, and some getting used to, but Material Me is a great solo venture.