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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

The Pineapple Thief

3000 Days

Review by Julie Knispel

The Pineapple Thief occupies an interesting place in modern progressive music, for reasons that I hope will soon become clear.

Modern prog fans seem to have forced a dilemma in a number of ways.  The giants of the past…the bands that were the foundation of progressive music, have cast such a long, dark shadow over the genre that bands seem to have had a huge issue coming out from under that shadow.  Groups that tend to forge their own way, drawing from different influences and as such sounding different from those forefathers, are in their own way every bit as progressive as those initial bands.  But because they don’t sound like those older bands, some people have major issues considering them prog.  It’s a dilemma, and it’s one that bands as disparate as The Mars Volta, Tool, and The Pineapple Thief all encounter.  In their own way, The Piuneapple Thief is a progressive rock band, even as their music draws from the indie and post rock scene more than traditional symphonic rock.  While Bruce Soord’s vocals are every bit as self aware and self conscious as many of the 1980’s neo-proggers, they are set against a musical backing that has more in common with bands like Radiohead and their ilk.  As such, they’re seen as prog-lite by many, and not prog at all by an equal group.

3000 Days is a 2-CD set compiling the band’s chosen best moments from a career that has spanned close to the 3000 days referenced in the album’s title.  Featuring some remixes, alternate versions, and so on, it’s a career spanning retrospective that offers long time fans a little bit new while presenting a fairly complete look at what the band has achieved since spinning off the group Vulgar Unicorn.  As such, it’s a perfect way to become acquainted with a group that certainly merits a closer look by fans of the more melodic side of progressive rock.  Don’t be afraid that there aren’t mellotrons akimbo and lyrics about fantasy subjects…drink deep of a dark and melancholy musical draught that would make the members of Anekdoten or Landberk green with envy.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2009  Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
God Bless The Child
The album's opener starts with a very Radiohead-esque vocal over gorgeous acoustic guitar. Intensity builds fairly quickly as vocal harmonies flit over strummed guitar and handclaps in a concert singalong style. The addition of drums at approximately 1:15 brings another layer to the piece, while key modulations in the chorus are a nice bit of seasoning. Everything changes up at 4:10, when the band goes full-on electric, taking what had been to this point a gorgeous ballad style folk piece and blowing it out of the water in dirge style to the end.
Shoot First

Much quicker and rockier than the compilation's opening track, “Shoot First” comes from the Pineapple Thief’s 2008 release Tightly Unwound, the band’s first on Kscope records.  Bruce Soord’s vocals certainly take some getting used to, especially for a listener more generally familiar with fuller voiced singers in the prog genre.  In many ways, I think it is his delivery that draws the most comparisons to indie and alternapop, as they are much more in line with those styles.  The music is wistful even as it presents a good bit of energy, and the vocal harmonies are quite lovely.

Part Zero

“Part Zero” dates back to the band’s third album, and is all-together a heavier, rockier piece.  Vocal harmonies are again a highlight, added here and there for impact and intensity.  The guitar playing has a crunchier, almost metallic aspect to it, yet the song plays with differences in shade and intensity throughout, making this seven minute track a veritable cornucopia of styles.

137

Radiohead comparisons come back to the fore on this piece from TPT’s second album (which happens to share the same name as the track).  Soord’s vocals have a distinctly Thom Yorke-like feel to them, and at times I could easily see this song on a release like Kid A or Amnesiac.  The repeated vocal section around 2 minutes in, which drops back to a single vocal line (occasionally harmonized) with looped backing, is particularly intense without being at all heavy.  “137” is a cool little piece of moody music.

We Love You

“We Love You” shares a similar production value and palate with “God Bless the Child,” which makes sense as both were taken from the same release.  Electronics take the fore as the piece opens, with incredibly soft spoken vocals and drones and loops creating the musical backing.  A more ‘traditional’ TPT sound comes in about 3 minutes through the track, and the harmonies are as thick and lush as one could hope for. 

Clapham

Named either for the borough of South London or a sect of social reformers of the Church of England in the early 19th century (this reviewer is leaning toward the London reference, personally), “Clapham” comes from both the band’s 2005 album 10 Stories Down and the pre-release EP 4 Stories Down.  It’s a rather somber, slow acoustic ballad, fairly typical in tone as far as the material on this compilation goes, and while not as despairing as it might have been, this is definitely not a track you’d play for a friend in need.

Dead In The Water

This piece, the lead track from Little Man, opens quietly, but 2 minutes in TPT kicks things into higher gear, with flailing drums and some intense keyboard/guitar interplay.  This burst almost immediately recedes back into unsettled quiet, making the heaviness feel even more intense than it already is.

Kid Chameleon

“Kid Chameleon” opens with some fragile and pretty acoustic guitar playing, a texture that hasn’t quite been heard yet on this best of release.  Coming off the band’s 2002 sophomore release, this seven minute composition is one of the group’s earlier extended tracks, yet by far not as epic as some pieces the group had, or would, commit to release.  Some rolling bass work and sustained, steel guitar inspired playing mix nicely with the standard Pineapple Thief mainstays.

Tightly Wound (Acoustic)

This is an alternate version of a track originally appearing on the band’s most recent studio effort, 2008’s Tightly Unwound.  I can’t compare this to the original studio release, but the stripped back acoustic arrangement, focusing on Bruce Soord’s pained vocals and acoustic guitar, reveal some frightening depths of emotion.

Remember Us

At over 16 minutes in length, this piece from the group’s third album certainly qualifies for epic status.  Having gotten through 9 previous songs, it might be hard to consider how the Pineapple Thief’s sound would sustain a song of such length.  Considering their strong hold on mood and tone and the ability to craft subtle shifts in both to maintain interest and tension, such fears could probably be allayed somewhat.  At times “Remember Us” might feel more like a few tracks cunningly and carefully stitched together, but it carries itself pretty well for a track of such length.

The World I Always Dreamed Of

Disc two of this career overview opens with a track from 2005’s Ten Stories Down.  “The World I Always Dreamed Of” is hooky, with memorable melodies and a somewhat bouncy beat despite the always present melancholy mood.  The use of orchestration at the 4 minute mark is a nice touch that adds a different feel to the closing moments of this piece.

Wretched Soul

 “Wretched Soul” was excised from the same album as the track above, and one would expect a similar tone to that track.  Instead we get the heavier side of TPT, with more distorted, processed vocals, which might draw comparison to another PT band.  Indeed, such comparisons seem to be as frequent as those to Radiohead, and the heavier feel of this track certainly doesn’t help matters.  It is interesting to hear this band, which thus far through the compilation has explored its moodier, more sensitive side, rocking out in their own special way.  For me, this song is a shock compared to the material I have heard so far, and I’m still not sure how to take its more excessive side.

All You Need To Know

As the Pineapple Thief was ending its run with noted British indy prog label Cyclops, they put together a mini album titled What We Have Sown as a kind of thanks to the label.  Written during the same sessions is Tightly Unwound, the album would be dominated by a 27-minute epic, but it is this track, the opener for that release, that the band excised to represent on this album.  Fairly acoustic, yet also somewhat upbeat, “All You Need to Know” is a nice piece of powerful, melancholic pop music.

Vapour Trails

2004’s Variations on a Dream carried 4 tracks in excess of seven minutes, and all of them are represented on 3000 Days.  “Vapour Trails” is the third of these tracks on this compilation, and offers up a fairly dark brew of electronics, plaintive vocals and acoustic guitar.  An exercise in mood, “Vapour Trails” is a particularly dark piece on an album filled with them.

How Did We Find Our Way

Oddly, this piece from 2002’s 137 sounds almost upbeat by comparison to every other song on this retrospective.  The guitar is fairly bright, the vocals sound like the song is presented in a major key, and the wistfulness is less steeped in misery and more from happy remembrance.  It has been nice, throughout the album, to see the band rely so much on acoustic instruments as such a major part of their sound, and this song is no exception.  Again, brief bits of orchestration add colour to the song in pleasant and totally appropriate ways.

I Will Light Up Your Eyes

Based on title, this piece seems to be a companion piece (at least in title) to another track on the 2005 album from which it was drawn.  Without that release to compare to, I can’t ascertain that to be a fact, but it’s an interesting thing to consider (for the record, the other piece in question is “Who Will Light Up Your Eyes,” also from 10 Stories down).  Featuring a good bit of looping and some impressive vocal arrangements, this seven and a half minute track is a textbook example of songwriting and arrangement being more important than flashy play in terms of making a great song better.

Subside

This track was taken from the band’s third album, opening that release (a later expended rendition would be a centerpiece of the group’s 2005 Cyclops Records EP release).  Mellow on opening, somber in delivery, this piece is considered by some to be a staple Pineapple Thief anthem, and for a fairly short track (by prog and Pineapple Thief standards), this is an impressive distillation of everything TPT.

Private Paradise

“Private Paradise” would be the opening, near-12 minute epic salvo that would be listener’s first exposure to The Pineapple Thief.  Taken from Abducted at Birth/Abducting the Unicorn (depending on if you use Bruce Soord’s desired title or the one given the album by Cyclops Records in order to emphasize the band’s connection to Vulgar Unicorn, the 1990’s British neo-prog band that Soord came from), it’s odd in some ways that the band/label decided until so late in the compilation’s track listing to include early material.  As such, the song seems somewhat tacked on, almost as if it’s there to provide closure, yet has kind of been placed in a bit of corner.  It’s early, it’s a bit raw, and the band’s sound hasn’t been fully matured or explored, yet this is certainly Pineapple Thief music through and through, and all the elements that would come to the fore as the band progressed are on display herein early, embryonic form..

Snowdrops

The last but one track on 3000 Days, this one was culled from 2006’s Little Man.  Many long time TPT fans seem to see this album as the group at its best, and based on the tracks included on this best of, it’d be hard to argue that opinion.  The music is beautiful and so carefully layered and arranged that one is afraid that a stray breath might disrupt the structure.  Even with violin and orchestration, the music has a bit of Cure feel to it, sharing similarity in mood to songs from Disintegration or Bloodflowers, while Soord’s vocals, while quiet, are delivered with strong enough honesty to knock over a building.

Too Much To Lose

3000 Days closes in similar fashion to 2008’s Tightly Unwound, via the 15 minute epic “Too Much To Lose.”  This offers the compilation a nice bit of symmetry, as the first disc also closed out with an epic track of similar length.  5 years of experience and growth, musically and perhaps emotionally, make this epic a far different beast when listened to side by side with “Remember Us,” as the song flows so easily that it’s almost a shock when the fifteen minutes are up.  I am impressed by arrangement, by the careful use of shadow and restraint to convey messages by the fact that TPT is willing to orchestrate in as unobtrusive a way as possible so that each musical voice bears as much weight and importance as possible, rather than overdo things to excess.  The only thing keeping “Too Much to Lose” from being a symphonic prog masterpiece is the lack of it being symphonic…everything else needed is there in droves

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