Sound — 9
With Steven Wilson putting Porcupine Tree out of commission while he's off in '70s prog la-la land, many prog-rock faithful have wondered where to turn for their dose of modern alt-prog, but Bruce Soord's band The Pineapple Thief has been producing music in the style since 1999, with a sound comparable to their label-mates in Porcupine Tree and Anathema, as well as bands like Riverside.
After releasing the more Brit-pop flavoured "Magnolia," Bruce and his band (which also features Jon Sykes on bass and Steve Kitch on keyboards, as well as a guest appearance on drums by former Porcupine Tree drummer Gavin Harrison) return triumphantly to the more progressive textures of their earlier work on "Your Wilderness." Opening with the track "In Exile," the mood for the record is set almost immediately with acoustic guitars, Mellotron strings, Bruce Soord's angelic Thom Yorke-esque vocals, and a bit of underlying chugging electric guitar taking center stage. "No Man's Land" is a very beautiful, pastoral acoustic-led piece that builds into an evocative, heavier piece that leads into the heavier "Tear You Up," one of the more dynamic pieces on the album, which opens with a bombastic heavy guitar and drum barrage, leading into a much lighter acoustic verse before going into a very proggy middle section and a chorus with some very angelic harmony vocals. "That Shore" continues with a reverb-drenched sort of ambient electronic prog sound, with heavy emphasis on synths and piano, and less on guitar. It sort of reminds me of Radiohead circa "Kid A," and Bruce's vocals certainly help matters along, sounding like the illegitimate lovechild of Steven Wilson and Thom Yorke. "Take Your Shot"'s intro has some very cool sounding interplay between instruments, and follows with a cool kind of bluesy-rock section that wouldn't sound out of place on Rush's last few albums, and a wah-infused guitar solo. "Fend for Yourself" returns to the sort of acoustic-prog sound that makes up a great portion of the first few songs, and features a really interesting solo played on what sounds to be a clarinet (which would make it a rare appearance of the instrument in a rock song). "The Final Thing on My Mind" is the album's longest track, clocking in at just under ten minutes long, and goes through an assortment of sections with mesmerizing vocal melodies and very tasteful instrumental playing that slowly builds to a climax. Unlike a lot of longer prog-rock songs, this one isn't about dazzling the listener with lengthy solo passages (though it does have a pretty incredible guitar solo) and start-stop arrangements and abstract structures, but about an emotional build-up that works on the listener. The album closes out with "Where We Stood," another dark, acoustic-led number, and somewhat of a pallate cleanser after the album's epic-length prog number.
The musician's performances on this record are quite excellent, with at least as much emphasis on tasteful songwriting as dazzling displays of technique and ability. The few stand-out guitar solos on this record are quite excellent, and even contain some atypically shred-y parts, like the solo in "In Exile" and the whammy bar flutters in "The Final Thing on My Mind." Jon Sykes' bass often plays in the pocket, and Steve Kitch's keyboard playing puts an epic backdrop behind what would normally be a fairly sparse arrangement. Gavin Harrison's drumming talents are already quite world-renowned, and he puts on quite a performance on this record. The production is also very good, with all of the instruments coming through clearly, though I probably would have liked to hear the bass a little better.
Lyrics — 9
Like a lot of lyrics in the alt-prog/new prog genre, "Your Wilderness" shows Bruce Soord's melancholic, emotional side, and while it may not be as deep as some of the introspective lyrics of Steven Wilson, or as abstract as Thom Yorke, they're not bad lyrics at all. Here is an excerpt from "No Man's Land": "This is the land that we earned/Dressed in colors, we burned/But did I hold you close?/And lord only knows if you're happy now/And lord only knows where you are." The themes of loss and introspection continue throughout the album.
The real treat on this album is Bruce Soord's atmospheric voice, which has a soothing quality that could give any of the aforementioned vocalists in this review a real run for their money. And his way of weaving together vocal melodies is a true testament to his songwriting abilities. The melodies are hardly what you'd call "uplifting," but they fit the often-somber quality of the music quite well.
Overall Impression — 9
For the time being, until Steven Wilson puts Porcupine Tree back together, "Your Wilderness" is going to be one of the best examples of modern-day alt-prog out there right now. The songwriting and production are masterful, and the band's playing stays tasteful yet always interesting. And coming from a year with a few really good prog-rock releases, like Haken and Dream Theater and (soon enough) Pain Of Salvation, it's great to see that there are some bands keeping the prog-rock flame alive. There's really nothing to complain about with this record, and if you're into bands like the ones mentioned in this review, and have never heard of The Pineapple Thief, you really should check this record out, and dig into their discography a little deeper (my personal favourites are "Tightly Unwound" and "Someone Here Is Missing"). If you're already a long-time fan, this album won't be a huge surprise to you, but it'll still hold up quality-wise to the rest of their discography.
This is a very recommended listen.