English art rock troupe the Pineapple Thief have always set a standard for how to combine gorgeously heartrending songwriting with sophisticated, nuanced, and enveloping sonic auras. While 2016’s Your Wilderness was a tad underwhelming compared to its predecessors—although it was certainly very good in its own right—each of their records purveys a masterful sense of longing, hope, and antagonism as only mastermind Bruce Soord could craft and deliver. Luckily, that remains true on Dissolution, the quartet’s latest confessional. Continuing in the accessible path of its immediate predecessors (relative to the more radical trajectory of earlier works), the album’s heightened emphasis on subtlety, diversity, and unconventionality makes it superior to Your Wilderness and a strong snapshot of how powerful and daring the band can still be.
Once again comprised of Soord, bassist John Sykes, keyboardist Steve Kitch, and drummer Gavin Harrison (King Crimson, ex-Porcupine Tree), the Pineapple Thief see Dissolution as “reflect[ing] the disintegration of relationships and the undoing of our social fabric”. Soord adds, “We’re living in a time when supposedly we are more connected than ever before, but, I personally am at my happiest when I unplug that connection.” As for how Harrison handled his second studio outing with TPT, Soord remarks that they worked together “from the inception of Dissolution and . . . took the songs into a territory [Soord] wouldn’t have found on [his] own”. For sure, Harrison has a more characteristic and dominant role here, and in general, it’s the ceaseless dedication the foursome showed in pushing each other “technically and artistically” as a collaborative unit that makes the LP so commanding.
While the group’s aggressive side is always gripping, it’s often their most gently pensive moments that truly overwhelm. Such is the case with opener “Not Naming Any Names”. At first, its somber emptiness and brief length—roughly two minutes—make it feel a bit unimpactful, yet its blend of fragile laments and delicate piano chords eventually reveal why Soord’s beautifully devasting lone presence is as arresting as ever. Later, “Pillar of Salt” manages a similarly haunting feat (with acoustic guitar arpeggios) and “Shed a Light” closes Dissolution exultantly by using mesmerizing bits of singer/songwriter hopefulness as bookends to a chaotic core full of sharp guitar riffs, chilling effects, and Harrison’s trademark stylish syncopation (which, it must be said, channels his performance on Porcupine Tree’s “Anesthetize”).
Speaking of evoking previous triumphs, the 11-minute “White Mist” is an atmospheric, challenging, and poignant tour-de-force whose fascinating multipart adventurousness recalls the more exploratory nature of initial benchmarks like “What Have We Sown?” and “Remember Us”. Prior to that, “Threatening War” is a fine example of Soord’s penchant for bittersweet rebellion, and while some other inclusions (such as “Far Below”, “Try As I Might”, and “Uncovering Your Tracks”) are slightly more undistinguished and familiar, they possess enough distinctive grandeur and biting sentiment to be worthwhile nonetheless.
Although Dissolution doesn’t surpass the Pineapple Thief’s greatest albums (or even consistently change things up), it does outdo its predecessor and offer devotees another idiosyncratic collection of rousing songwriting and remarkable instrumentation. The quartet’s fundamental identity remains marvelously touching, zealous, and unique, and the scattered conjurations of earlier experimentation—as well as the amplified influence of Harrison’s specialties—make Dissolution another essential entry in their outstanding legacy.