For decades now, English progressive rock band The Pineapple Thief (and just as a quick aside, as much as I like these guys, I’ve never cared much for their name) has been dogged by comparisons to their slightly more famous proggy counterparts Porcupine Tree.
Some critics have even dubbed them “the other PT” – which depending on your point of view counts as either the highest of praise or the lowest form of derivative dismissal.
Though perhaps somewhat unfair, noting that likenesses exist between these two bands is not entirely inaccurate. In fact, on the surface they are pretty obvious.
Both bands made their name by slogging it out in the trenches of the “new-prog” arena, and building the same sort of rabidly devoted cult following enjoyed by similarly progressive rock bands like Marillion, Anathema and Dream Theatre.
Like Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson, The Pineapple Thief’s Bruce Soord is also an accomplished musical maestro, whose own songs tend to lean towards themes of melancholy and isolation, and who occasionally moonlights as a producer specializing in remastering albums by other artists (in Soord’s case, mostly metal acts like Katatonia and Opeth). Like Wilson, Soord has also tested the solo waters, releasing his little heard, but lovely self-titled debut earlier this year.
And of course, there is also the matter of those shared initials.
The Pineapple Thief’s 11th album Your Wilderness is unlikely to quell these comparisons. If anything, the towering presence of Porcupine Tree drummer Gavin Harrison on most of the album – albeit labeled as more of a contributor than full-on band member – is likely to start that chatter anew. But the conversation really needs to end there. Your Wilderness is quite simply, a stunning album and a welcome return to full-on progressive rock form for The Pineapple Thief, following the band’s more recent left turn into slightly more mainstream territory with 2014’s Magnolia.
There is even a bonafide prog epic here in the form of the nearly 10 minute “The Final Thing On My Mind,” replete with all the sonic texturing, lyrical moodiness and light-to-dark ebb and flow you’d expect. This slow burning track steadily builds to a dramatic crescendo of stinging guitars, and crashing drums courtesy of the aforementioned Mr. Harrison. In another nod to The Pineapple Tree’s prog-pedigree, Supertramp’s John Helliwell adds a short, but sweet clarinet accent to “Fend For Yourself.”
But speaking of Gavin, nowhere is his presence felt more than on the opening track, “In Exile.” Here, Harrison’s drum fills – while typically busy and intricate – never overpower Soord’s haunting vocals, which are really the centerpiece of not only this song, but the entire album. Even so, there are layers aplenty lying just beneath the surface here, including doomy sounding, slashing metallic guitars that provide a darker counterpoint to the otherwise airier, more ethereal mood floating just above it all.
The Porcupine Tree comparisons – particularly with In Absentia era PT – are most likely to rear their ugly heads here, as well as on “Tear You Up” which takes an abrupt U-Turn from atmospheric pop into the sort of heavy metal territory reminiscent of PT’s Fear Of A Blank Planet. But they should also end there.
Soord’s haunting vocals throughout this album are clearly the glue that holds everything else together here. While his songs – which outside of the semi-epic “The Final Thing On My Mind,” fall mostly into the tightly constructed, roughly five minute model of 2014’s Magnolia – draw liberally from his influences (most notably Wilson), they also reveal Soord as a still maturing songwriter, with a vision that is uniquely his own.
Immaculately produced and beautifully executed, Your Wilderness serves notice to the world that The Pineapple Thief is no mere baby Porcupine Tree. Their best days still lie well ahead of them.
Grade: B+[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B01FY6OM6M] [amazon template=iframe image&asin=B0170RRR8S]