I didn’t want to review this album this week; it was supposed to be Deafheaven’s turn and I was going to write on this one next. But, for the reasons expressed by these impressions, I decided to write on this album first. Writing of late for me has been an endeavor of finding the time and inspiration to do so, more than flowing correctly or well. Constant revision has been the name of my plight with this. Looking at the widescreen view, music still serves as my primary inspiration to write therefore when something puts a bug in my ear, I tend to cling to these sounds.
To be completely honest, The Pineapple Thief was a band with whom I was wholly unfamiliar until the announcement of this project. Yes, I knew that Bruce Soord was their primary face, I knew they were from England, and I knew they were on kScope records which was home to Porcupine Tree, Steven Wilson and a gaggle of other projects that I enjoy, but I never listened to their music until I got All the Wars (2012). I was impressed with the journey on which they album took me; it was an interesting spin on progressive rock that explored melancholic emotions.
Being that Paimona’s (my now nearly silent partner in this endeavor) favorite band is Katatonia, I am greatly familiar with their sound, especially after having attended their concert. The sharp edge of their heaviness is reduced by Renske’s gentle, almost monotone, voice that emerges from the crunching guitars and bass rather than soaring over it or growling through it. Theirs is a dark, melodic trip through negative emotion and focuses more on depression and loneliness than melancholy.
So, when I heard about this collaboration between Soord and Renske, I was not surprised that the two would get together for an album. Rather, I was curious as to how that effort would sound. Would it be more similar to Pineapple Thief’s higher energy and brighter soundscapes, or would it be more similar to Katatonia’s foreboding darkness? The answer is a bit tougher to divine than it may seem, but I’m comfortable with stating that it sounds like neither.
The album opens gently with “Pleasure,” where tentative guitar tiptoes over electronic sounds from which Renske’s voice, not inhibited by heaviness, emerges to my ear against the electronic and percussive beats. Oddly, as I was listening to this, Renske, whose voice at times I had questioned as the lead singer of Katatonia, sounded pretty when singing against a style that could only be described as comparable to the darker nu-Wave bands from the late 1980s and early 1990s. At times, this reminds me of Depeche Mode (thanks to Paimona for the comparison), the Cure, and a touch like Radiohead’s early albums (aka their good ones). “Wisdom of Crowds” opens with a sample wah-wah of a muted trumpet matched against ambling guitar, deceiving its listener with its tone and generally open, upbeat sound against the voice of Renske.
“Radio Star” slams in percussively, and plays almost like a rock anthem of this style with its fuzzy guitar sounds, boom-chicka-chicka-tack snare hits. Though it rolls around in the murky low tone; its chorus transitions into a soaring, quiet, and fragile touch of emotive paranoia. In fact, the theme of the music on this song seems to be only about paranoia.
“Frozen North” is the album’s most successful song in my opinion. The lyrics combine with the music to make something completely poetic. The fragile guitar evokes the soundscape of looking into a snow globe, where Renske’s voice narrates the thoughts. Its injected turbulence is representative of a troubled relationship, dark thoughts, or generally melancholic feelings. Renske’s voice is perfect for this sound; Soord’s writing ability is on display here. Even down to the the repetitive breakdown, which is centrally important in creating the tension about which I’m writing in this song. This song is followed by “The Light” (my second favorite song off the album). It really evokes that 80s to 90s depressive nu-Wave sound well using the electronic samples to create the tension off the bat. Yes, at times the repetition in this song is not as successful as in “Frozen North,” but it is still an overwhelmingly emotionally strong sound.
“Centre of Gravity” and “Flows Through You” also deserve a great deal of attention as well with its heavy reliance on electronics and effects to the point where the guitar almost seems entirely ancillary to it at all. It is dark, focused, and determined. Emotionally aggressive in ways that I’ve never heard Renske’s voice, it is a wondrous closure after the album seems to lose a bit of its cohesion and focus with its soaring “Stacked Naked.” Though “Pretend” does capture some of the momentum back as well, but I’m a bit uncertain as to how necessary either song was on this album.
Collaborations are a mixed bag typically yet when they are successful they are amazing. Fortunately, this is a successful collaboration that explores a wholly different style of music than what both musicians that participated in its production play. I agree with AngryMetalGuy in that I think it needs more attention than just this one album; this one is a beautiful exploration and modern updating of nu-Wave as it was transitioning into goth rock. Yes, there are missteps in the album (specifically the inclusion of “Stacked Naked”), but this brought to attention how talented and how stunningly beautiful Renske’s voice can be and how emotive it truly is. It honestly makes me wonder if his voice is meant for metal really, because he can’t get over the sounds or through the sounds like others with that gentle, fragile voice of his (which totally does not match his personal appearance); however, it works for Katatonia. For fans of progressive rock, this album is a must have; for those that love that sad time music from the late 80s and early 90s, then its a must have. This is a successful collaboration in that new aspects of the musicians’ talents came to the fore here in unexpected ways and is thus far my favorite of those that have come out in the recent years.