Music

The Pineapple Thief: Your Wilderness

Photo: Rob Monk

Your Wilderness finds the Pineapple Thief refining its sound and bringing a much-needed cohesion to their brand of accessible prog.


The Pineapple Thief

Your Wilderness

Label: Kscope
US Release Date: 2016-08-12
UK Release Date: 2016-08-12
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If nothing else, the Pineapple Thief has been the victim of lazy comparisons. The tagline for the AllMusic biography of the English rock group reads, "Prolific British prog rock band who incorporate the sounds of Porcupine Tree, Radiohead, and Muse into a sprawling, experimental experience." This description is for many the summation of what the Pineapple Thief does with its music: it cobbles together other styles rather than forging its own. Greg Prato's AllMusic review of the band's excellent 2010 album Someone Here is Missing accuses it of doing nothing but cribbing from the Radiohead catalogue: "Singer/guitarist Bruce Soord has his Thom Yorke-isms down pat – as evidenced by his vocal delivery throughout the album."

Many of the comparisons people draw when writing about the Pineapple Thief are not incorrect. The Pineapple Thief brings to mind Porcupine Tree in more ways than one, whether sonically, in choice of label (Kscope), or in acronym (PT). At its hookiest, the band does sound like it would be comfortable on a double-billing with Muse.

The accusations of Radiohead aping, leveled by Prato and others, are less convincing. Much like the attempts to liken Radiohead to Muse, Prato's argument suffers from a time-lag problem. If Muse and the Pineapple Thief are trying to mimic Radiohead, they are only doing so for a brief window of Radiohead's career, specifically the arty alt-rock of The Bends (1995) and OK Computer (1997). The music Radiohead started to make from Kid A (2000) onwards is little like the stadium-friendly rockers one can find on Muse's Black Holes and Revelations (2006) or the Pineapple Thief's Someone Here is Missing. The fact that Soord is a British male with a tenor is insufficient ground to paint him as a Yorke clone. Soord is happy to lean into hooks where Yorke would probably mumble esoterically.

Signs of influence are not tantamount to cheating on a test. Accusing the Pineapple Thief of mere imitation is easy, but it's also to ignore its differences from those common points of comparison. The band loves guitars too much to be likened to anything Radiohead has made since Kid A. Soord loves a tight song structure and typically avoids the sprawling length of Porcupine Tree epics like "Anesthetize" or The Incident. Muse is the most accurate reference point to the Pineapple Thief for their shared pop sensibility, but luckily Soord has never capitulated to the paranoid excesses of Muse's Orwellian The 2nd Law (2013) or Drones (2015).

The Pineapple Thief has chugged dutifully along for almost two decades now; since 2008's Tightly Unwound, it has released a record every two years. Almost uniformly, these albums are rich with accessible melodies and punchy riffs. The band is also an underrated for their commissioning of top-notch album art, as Someone Here is Missing and All the Wars (2012) evince. Your Wilderness is the latest entry into the Pineapple Thief's prolific catalogue, and what it offers is a noticeable improvement from the two LPs that precede it.

All the Wars and Magnolia (2014) find the Pineapple Thief pushing more toward the pop side of its sonic spectrum, with some success. Songs like "Burning Pieces" and "Alone at Sea" are some of the group's most satisfying rockers, and both exemplify the shift toward shorter, verse/chorus song structures. By prog rock standards, the Pineapple Thief has never been about lengthy tracks: Someone Here is Missing's epic tune, "3000 Days," runs only 6:10. Yet even by that standard All the Wars and Magnolia constitute a trimming of the band's sound; the longest number on the latter record is five minutes, and some even go as low as two-and-a-half minutes.

This tightening resulted in some excellent tracks, but it also caused All the Wars and Magnolia to not feel as compelling on the album level. This is strange given that the Pineapple Thief is a part of the modern prog tradition wherein the album-as-art is an understood mantra; it should come as little surprise that so many great modern prog records are concept albums (Porcupine Tree's Fear of a Blank Planet [2007], Dream Theater's Scenes from a Memory [1999]). The Pineapple Thief has done plenty to differentiate itself from its contemporaries, preferring to hone in on the art of a well-crafted five minute song without sacrificing complex songwriting. Yet the two records prior to Your Wilderness struggle to cohere into distinct wholes; one could easily swap out songs in either album and still come out feeling the same.

Your Wilderness bucks this trend. Sonically, the Pineapple Thief more than lives up to this album's title. Guitar leads echo for miles, reaching into cavernous expanses of reverb. The lonely introspection that drives Soord's lyrics paints the picture of a person "In Exile," to quote the first song off the record. The press materials for Your Wilderness hint at a concept that Soord is content to let the listener discover for herself: "[The concept] should reveal itself to the listener and be open to interpretation." Your Wilderness is more about feeling than it is plot, which is a smart move on the band's part.

The music of Your Wilderness carries the themes of isolation in a vast, empty space from its slow-build opener "In Exile" all the way to its pensive closer "Where We Stood". There are some heavy moments throughout, including a galloping riff in the middle of "Tear You Up", but on the whole Your Wilderness is a hushed affair from the Pineapple Thief. The echoey "That Shore" sums up the ethos of the record with its sparse piano notes and Soord's lamentations: "Your face is leaving me."

Instrumentally, the Pineapple Thief is tasteful in enhancing the themes of the album without giving way to proggy excess, although the clarinet on "Fend Yourself" is a strange instrumental choice. The most notable addition to the artist roster on Your Wilderness is Porcupine Tree drummer Gavin Harrison, who lives up to his reputation as a dazzlingly proficient drummer who is able to show his talent without showboating. The intricate rhythmic designs in the latter halves of "In Exile" and "The Final Thing on My Mind" are impressive yet subtle. Harrison could have taken the space to show off, as there are lots of stretches in these songs where improvisation is possible, yet he lends the songs as much as they need but no more than that.

Yet there is one major thing that prevents Your Wilderness from being a home run, and it's something that was present on All the Wars and Magnolia: homogeneity. A good deal of these songs, including the first three on the album, operate on a soft-to-heavy build, with calm verses giving way to bombastic choruses that then unfurl into climactic bridges. The almost ten-minute "Final Thing of My Mind" expands this format with less success than the three tracks that open the LP, which what that song does in half the time. The songs of Your Wilderness are well constructed, but there is a similarity to many of them that prevents many of them from standing out. "In Exile" and lead single "No Man's Land" rise to the top of the crop because of their placement in the tracklisting, in addition to being compelling tunes in their own right.

Your Wilderness marks the 11th studio outing of the Pineapple Thief, and it's great to know that the band isn't coasting on autopilot, easy as it would be to do. Though the dynamics of this music become predictable by the time "The Final Thing on My Mind" ushers the record to its end, Your Wilderness does reveal this band's skill in balancing individually accessible tracks with a larger emotive concept. The Pineapple Thief is a band to watch out for, and not because it fills the void left by the hiatus of Porcupine Tree or it mimics the stadium prog of Muse. These guys are forging their own musical path, and though they still have a lot on the road ahead of them, Your Wilderness is an appealing memento of where they are right now.

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