With Your Wilderness, Bruce Soord's the Pineapple Thief shift their musical focus away from their exploration of polished rock so evident on 2012's All the Wars and 2014's Magnolia, and back toward contemporary prog. Drummer Dan Osborne, who made his debut with the band on Magnolia, proved short-lived in his role; he has been replaced by Porcupine Tree/King Crimson kit man Gavin Harrison. Soord also enlisted guests including Supertramp's John Helliwell on clarinet, Caravan's string player/arranger Geoffrey Richardson, Godsticks' guitarist Darran Charles, and a four-voice choir. Harrison's addition can't be overstated. His playing extends the reach of their musicality exponentially.
The album title denotes themes of isolation, loneliness, and alienation -- not unfamiliar ones in PT's oeuvre. That said, they've never been explored with such a brooding focus as they are here. The overall textural palette is muted, songs flow in and out of one another without much in the way of dynamic variables, but there's no shortage of excellent music.
Opener "In Exile" is haunted by the sound of Steve Kitch's mellotron hovering behind Harrison's popping snare and tom-toms. They're eventually given flight by Charles' blistering guitar breaks. The chorus contains a small but pronounced hook, making it a perfect candidate for a single. It's followed by "No Man's Land." In his best subdued tenor, Soord relates loneliness and separation accompanied by a lovely meld of piano and acoustic guitar. Halfway through, Jon Sykes' massive bassline engages Harrison's rolling tom fills, adding drama that's expanded by electric guitars and keyboards toward a rocking close -- classic Pineapple Thief. "Take Your Shot" commences at midtempo, with gorgeous harmonic guitar layers and drum vamps amid ambient space. A middle-section crescendo fueled by Harrison is reined in by stacked choral voices before spiraling guitars wrestle it all free. The chorale, mellotron, strummed acoustic guitars, and Helliwell's free-floating clarinet fills make "Fend for Yourself" one of the album's high points, and a perfect setup for the nearly ten-minute "The Final Thing on My Mind." Like most things here, it commences sparingly and slowly. The emotional resonance in Soord's delivery and lyrics carry the song's weight. The bass and drums add a platform of tension as strings, choir, and monumental guitar breaks explode it. For all its strength and promise, Your Wilderness isn't perfect. Soord's songs are composed with a deliberately monochromatic dynamic foundation in order to assert the poignant, focused intention in his lyrics. As a result, the instrumental acumen gleams all the brighter. Deliberate or not, the lack of variation creates a series of lovely, sad, but blurry episodes in an extended work rather than strong individual tracks. That said, this is a marked return to form for the Pineapple Thief; it delivers back to fans a sound most have been missing for years. ~ Thom Jurek