Album Review: ‘Only Human’ (Tommy & The High Pilots)

Tommy & The High Pilots‘ new record, ‘Only Human,’ dropped recently. You might remember the band from several weeks back—I featured their summer-ready single “Outta My Head” in Literally, Darling‘s first-ever Aural Fixation. I got a chance to check out the record over on ARTISTdirect, and I have to say, I’m impressed with what I found.

L to R: Michael Cantillon (guitar/keyboard); Steven Libby (bass); Tommy Cantillon (vocals/guitar); Matt Palermo (drums).
L to R: Michael Cantillon (guitar/keyboard); Steven Libby (bass); Tommy Cantillon (vocals/guitar); Matt Palermo (drums).

Before I ever knew who they were, I saw Tommy & The High Pilots a lot of months back as a last-minute “Will you go with me?” outing with a friend. They were playing a small venue in Austin, and I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into. (Tag-along shows tend to be pretty hit or miss.)

Luckily, I’m a pretty adventurous soul, and the show was great—I even got a t-shirt and  borrowed my friend’s CD to listen to some of the band’s stuff. If this is all sounds very ’90s pastiche, it’s appropriate; as much as I loved the band and the music, I really loved something about hearing new music from some new faces that I didn’t discover through a tweet or my Facebook timeline.

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‘Only Human’ is available on iTunes. (Click to preview the whole album.)

Fast forward and we find ourselves at the release of ‘Only Human,’ a vibrant and earnest record with a lot to offer, even several listens in. Much of the album is conscious of pop songwriting sensibilities in a very smart (and distinctly late-’90s)  way, making ‘Only Human’ largely a radio-ready release—as listenable as most, if not all, of what alt-rock radio has to offer right now.

Producer Matt Wallace rounds out the High Pilots’ new release with big-band studio sounds; before I even double-checked his production credits to write this review, I’d already made notes of Adam Levine in the vocal production, of the sonic spunk found in Train songs or Maroon 5 singles. (He’s done work with both, notably for the multi-platinum ‘Songs About Jane‘ by the latter.)

Have a listen to my favorite tracks from the album below, and don’t forget to follow the band on Twitter at @TheHighPilots.

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“Only Human”

Buy the album here.

The album’s crown jewel is title track “Only Human,” stirring up a tasteful serving of ’90s nostalgia that’s at once current and cognizant of its forefathers. It kicks off with a killer guitar part and instantly familiar vocal melody, and when the drums drop in, this song seals the deal.

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“Here In My Hands”

Buy the album here.



The soulful “Here In My Hands” is a definite highlight, rife with stylistic elements reminiscent of songs like “One Love” from radio-friendly band Hootie & the Blowfish. Big church chords and choral-backup amplify the organ’s authenticity, making for a nicely rounded blues-rock record with a surprisingly emotional aftermath.

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“Innocent”

Buy the album here.

Simply put: I can’t wait to hear this song on radio. I think it’s just sentimental enough without losing a distinctly alt-rock appeal, and—again—the ’90s vibe and U2-esque element to the production would nestle in nicely among the other options on the airwaves. (And it’s, like, totally in over on pop radio right now.) As much as I love Foster The People and Imagine Dragons, I think there’s plenty of room for a sound like “Innocent”: big appeal, pristine production, and a glowing piano section from keyboardist/guitarist Michael Cantillon to tie it all together.

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“Devil To Pay”

Buy the album here.

“Devil To Pay” is a straightforward spoonful of unrequited love, with definite echoes of fun.—with the notable exceptions of having the theatricality dialed back a notch and the dial on the frontman’s swoon-factor turned up. It gives the album a moment of less grand lyrical proportions, allowing the story to simmer down to just a boy and a girl (or another boy) and a love song. (“Broken Down,” which follows the track, is of similar approach and may make for a “mushy” midsection for some with the two songs placed back-to-back.)

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“Painted Cave”

Buy the album here.

Simple and stunning. This is, without a doubt, one of my favorite songs on the album, and what I love most about it is how brightly every member of the band shines. I always tend to think of the last song on an album as some kind of (vague, early-stage) indicator of the direction a band or artist’s next album might take—and if that’s the case with “Painted Cave,” point me in the direction of the pre-order.

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It’s hard to compliment one particular element of the band’s musical element without also recognizing its complements; what gives Tommy & the High Pilots real lift is that the proverbial High Pilots are every bit as present as lead singer Tommy Cantillon himself. Their singer’s certainly an ace in the rock ‘n’ roll rat race, with plenty of both charismatic stage appeal and great tone and talent for recording, but percussive personality permeates the record thanks to drummer Matt Palermo, at this point becoming a veteran in the mid-size music game. The last piece of the High Pilots puzzle is the oft-forgotten bassist; Steven Libby offers consistently slick and smooth bass lines to the band’s sound, so on-point it’s easy to take his groove for granted.

The album is a sharp release all around, the kind of record you can leave in your car all summer long without a pang of regret. Like any proper road trip worth remembering, it’s not without a bump or two along the way, but hey—they’re only human, and the road to rock stardom has started with less solid albums than this.

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Tommy & The High Pilots are on tour with The Dangerous Summer now.
Information about dates and tickets here.

Buy the album here.

Follow the band on Twitter at @TheHighPilots.

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