Three Mile Pilot: The Inevitable Past Is the Future Forgotten

[18 October 2010]

By Russ Slater

This is a welcome return from Three Mile Pilot, a band whose main members Pall Jenkins and Armistead Burwell Smith IV were placed on hiatus in 1998 to form the Black Heart Procession and Pinback. And while those bands keep producing albums of high quality, their high points of Amore Del Tropico (2002) and Blue Screen Life (2001) now seem some way behind them. And that’s what makes The Inevitable Past is Forgotten such an exciting release.

It’s an album which marks a major stylistic change—earlier Three Mile Pilot, Black Heart Procession and Pinback music had always been so hard to classify. Here, the prominent use of keyboards and the anthemic nature of many of the songs give the whole project an ‘80s feel, with glimpses of The Cure (on “Still Alive”), Public Image Ltd (“Days of Wrath”) or Killing Joke (“What’s in the Air”). In some ways, this is not an album as edgy as you’d may be expecting, but with broader appeal. The melodies that are normally crammed into every Pinback album are present, and allied to Pall Jenkins’ plaintive, unearthly whine, they work wonders. Lyrically, the themes are universal, covering such areas as regret (“Same Mistake”), losing time (“Left in Vain”) and escape (“Still Alive”). It’s in the music and vocal harmonies that the surprises are dealt out, the contrast between Jenkins, shifting between baritone and falsetto, and the more melodic Smith meld into each other in perfect union.

The music builds from different sources throughout the album, with bass taking the stage on “The Threshold”, Gang of Four post-punk guitars on “One Falls Away”, and running piano on “Same Mistake”, the one track that could easily become something of a hit. It’s certainly as taut and ostentatious as anything by The Walkmen or The National. It’s on “What’s in the Air” that we get the Killing Joke reference, a pulsating, distorted bass line evolves through vocals, guitar and synth into a deathly, otherworldly refrains of “what’s in the air we breathe?”

The album finishes on “The Premonition,” a ballad that could have easily come from the Flaming Lips, while also sounding like Harry Nilsson in a very dark mood, Popeye at the bottom of a barrel. It’s another twist on their sound, making it hard to believe that this band hasn’t recorded for over 10 years.

Personally, after spending countless hours listening to “On a Ship to Bangladesh”, featured on 1998’s Gravity EP—their last release of original material before this—I couldn’t have been more excited about their reunion, and this fits the bill, not in the way I was expecting, but perhaps offering even more. Pall Jenkins in The Black Heart Procession has been playing around with their set-up over the last few years, adding strings and different keyboard sounds, but it was on Amore del Tropico that they mixed up the rhythms and added a bit of swing, that they really shone, and it feels the same trick has been done here with Smith’s involvement. His measured, rhythmic guitar and vocals give counter-balance to the grandiosity and melancholy of Jenkins, resulting in something which sounds not unlike ‘80s pop, and this really isn’t a bad thing. It’s simply a set of songs more identifiable, though no less inventive, than those they have worked on before.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/132072-three-mile-pilot-the-inevitable-past-is-the-future-forgotten/