Bruce Soord takes us on a journey to his home and past in his first solo release while the music looks forward as Soord develops and broadens his sound
Bruce Soord is the frontman of the progressive rock band The Pineapple Thief, a band which has always felt like a Bruce Soord solo project, much in the same way that the Eels is a project of “E” or Bright Eyes a project of Conor Oberst. Soord founded The Pineapple Thief in 1999 and the first three albums were recorded without the assistance of a band, but when 2003’s Variations on a Dream bought The Pineapple Thief to a wider audience, Soord assembled a group of musicians to join him.
Why did Soord feel the need to release his first official self-titled solo album if The Pineapple Thief was already largely a solo project? I think this is a consequence of how the sound of The Pineapple Thief has evolved since the project’s conception over 15 years ago. Over the space of 10 albums, The Pineapple Thief’s music has gotten progressively heavier (Muse would be a good comparison) and I wonder how much this has to with the band having been adopted by the progressive music scene.
When I first listened to Variations on a Dream, I did not think I was listening to a prog rock album; more than anything else, the album’s touching horn and strings intro makes me think of Mercury Rev, dreamy and soaring, an effect accentuated by Soord’s use of repeating motifs that build up, layer upon layer. This isn’t to say the music isn’t progressive; Vapour Trails, Variation on a Dream’s third track, is 9 minutes long and anything but a standard pop construction.
The Pineapple Thief’s magnum opus, Little Man, shows off the band’s prog credentials more than any other release, but this is indie prog (post prog?), showing more in common with Radiohead than Genesis. But, you know you’re a prog band once you’re signed to Kscope, an independent progressive music label with artists such as Anathema, Gazpacho, and prog-titan Steven Wilson. I can’t help feel that this prog emphasis has led Soord down rockier roads, with The Pineapple Thief’s last album, Magnolia, the bands rockiest and most straightforward release yet (despite some mixed opinions, Magnolia ended up being one of my favourite albums of 2014).
Returning to this, Bruce Soord’s first solo-by-name release, I feel that he is using this album as a vehicle to move away from the heavier sound of The Pineapple Thief and explore softer, more indie sounds. Whatever Soord’s reason for making this album, I’m delighted that he did, as he has produced 40 minutes of beautiful, chilled-out melancholia, reminiscent of earlier The Pineapple Thief releases, but more mature, more grown-up.
This album is one of years gone and lost, with Soord returning to the town in which he grew up, Yeovil. Black Smoke opens with a haunting piano line that repeats throughout as Soord sings “I see my town, the places we played, a shimmer of sound… The lost souls, I found you”, setting the tone for what’s to come. At 3:30, Black Smoke ends somewhat abruptly, with there being room for further development, but I think this is representative of how Soord’s songwriting has matured, managing to get across what he wants to communicate in less space. Black Smoke’s resolution is the rest of the album, the “lost souls” he has discovered. An acoustic guitar strums lazily on Buried Here as Soord continues his gaze back at an aimless youth: “Don’t let them tell you, your time is wasted here, doing nothing at all… I just wish we wasted more.”
The mood is instantly transformed with the unprecedentedly funky The Odds, which, while the chorus treads familiar ground, contains a soulful guitar solo half way in, making this the most poppy sounding song on the record. While I like hearing Soord experimenting with different styles, The Odds feels, well, odd, muddled in with the rest of album. There are also moments when things get very indie pop, such as Willow Tree and its verse’s radio-friendly melody, although I’m pleased that the gentle trumpet that plays throughout turns briefly dissonant for its final few bars.
Field Day (Part 1) contains, as brief as it is, the most proggy guitar solo I think I’ve heard from Soord and it hints at a style I hope to see him explore more in the future, whether solo or as part of The Pineapple Thief. The rest of the album floats off, peacefully, in a day dream; in the final song, Leaves Leave Me, the sound of birds chirp in a natural hum as the music swells as Soord sings layered harmonies. We hear a baby’s cry emerge as the song quietens and we hear the sound of people, people being left behind.
Bruce Soord takes us on a journey to his home and past in his first solo album away from The Pineapple Thief. While the lyrics look back, this music has me looking forwards towards what is next to come from Bruce Soord; we see that his music is developing and by separating The Pineapple Thief from his solo material, I think we will see greater experimentation, with less fear of alienating his existing fanbase. Might this mean a heavier The Pineapple Thief release in 2016? From a man who this year remixed Opeth’s Deliverance, anything’s possible.