Every once in a while, I develop a strong connection with a newly discovered band or artist and quickly go deep into their back catalog, which eventually leaves me eagerly awaiting the next installment and craving more. This happens most often when a release ties into my personal life, and with The Pineapple Thief’s “Your Wilderness,” the band got its hooks into me as I was journeying through the isolation and melancholy moods of being separated and heading for a divorce.
When the band released the follow up, “Dissolution,” I was an auto-buyer and once again found the record to be a powerful life soundtrack with many of the songs eliciting a connection with the ensuing emotions I was experiencing in the aftermath of a failed marriage. I know, I know… deep and heavy thoughts, but music has always been a life companion for me… one that’s always there and often very empathetic and understanding. And other times, mood altering and motivational.
I don’t play The Pineapple Thief’s music to feel good. I put them on to feel what I’m feeling even more. And like the rest of the world, I’ve been feeling the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and ensuing chaos fueled by differing political and personal perspectives. After listening to their new release, “Versions of the Truth,” I can only conclude that the band has been, as well.
The self-produced release seems in many ways to be a product of these tumultuous times, and I wonder if the band recorded in isolation rather than together as a unit. The record strikes a slightly eerie, melancholic vibe throughout, once again producing shades of sadness, bitterness and struggle for self-reclamation. Much of the world is feeling held down by fear, misinformation and the threat of violence, and the lyrical content delves right into all of this, exploring the damage that ensues when relationships crumble, perspectives differ and the truth is obscured.
The cover work is enigmatic, as well, utilizing an etching by the late German artist Michael Schoenholtz, which is an abstract series of shapes that elicit a sense of confusion, hinting of a maze that cannot be solved, and it leaves the viewer open to different interpretations—giving each person an opportunity to see their own “Version of the Truth.”
That is the depressing reality that is reflected in these songs. We do not see things the same way and the struggle to find common ground is painful. And while I love my music dynamic, dramatic and emotional, it might be just a bit too much right now given the state of the world events. Upon first listen of “Versions of the Truth,” I was very let down. It didn’t roar in places. After feeling such a connection with both “My Wilderness” and “Dissolution,” I had very high expectations that went severely unmet on first listen. I gave it a few more listens, and the recording began to grow on me. There was certainly some initial discomfort from the new elements being added to the sonic mix. Keyboards and marimba / xylophone type sounds appear in places that certainly stand out as different from the path previously forged.
According to the press release, the band was intentionally trying not to make another version of a record they’ve already made, and they have certainly succeeded at not being redundant to the previous two releases. They have taken a more direct approach on this record and while it may be more focused, it’s also less diverse. Given my listening preferences, it may be that I simply prefer less focused. I like intricacies and details and musical breaks that take you on a journey. And there are fewer of those here. Bruce’s vocals lean more toward the fragile than ferocious. His guitar playing skews more contemplative than courageous. And the songwriting veers into a bleaker landscape than its predecessors. That said, when the mood is right, it’s still an interesting listen that improves with subsequent listening.
It’s undeniable that drummer Gavin Harrison made a major impact on the sound (and success) of the last two records. I often found myself content simply listening to his performances as they were innovative and tasteful and unexpected. With “Versions of the Truth,” he seems to have taken a bit of a step more to the background, perhaps attempting in the spirit of the release to play more to the song. As a result, while his brilliance is still here, it’s less showcased. I don’t know if he changed kits, was mixed differently, or simply tried to stand out a bit less, but his presence is less commanding on this recording. Some might find that to be more cohesive. I personally miss feeling like Gavin is sitting a bit more in the spotlight.
“Versions of the Truth” opens the record with a back and forth argument between two people with differing perspectives. “That’s Not How I Remember It” shifts the perspective from one person to the other. It’s a little spooky, with a marimba line making a slinky run before a more pounding chorus kicks in. There are nice production choices that certainly make this track a better listen with a good set of headphones. “Break It All” does feature some drum work that calls some attention to itself, with Gavin playing some unexpected patterns and sounds to give a straightforward track some interesting shades. The chorus is a bit on the repetitive side and it’s very angular in spots to keep you from getting too comfortable.
“Demons” sounds like a bouncier, more upbeat track but the lyrics act in direct conflict with the music to create a collision of confusion and contrast. A cascading acoustic jangling run also adds a new color to the track, while a familiar, haunting chorus reassures listeners that this is still The Pineapple Thief. “Driving Like Maniacs” feels a bit more like something from “Your Wilderness,” with a hummable section that sounds like a soundtrack to a dust bowl western. It’s a fragile track that is a good example of the bleak but beautiful vibe this band creates.
“Leave Me Be” sounds more like something from “Dissolution,” and it swings a bit, with a catchy chorus that probably plays even better live than the original recording, and a floating solo break that is more about restraint than riffing. Again, Gavin deploys his busy tom tom and snare meandering to creative effect to make the simple song a more interesting listen. Gavin really does add something special to the band, both live and in the studio and there are some nice contributions of his on here, but nothing like “White Mist” from the previous record, which was a stunning display of tasteful syncopation in a longer format.
“Too Many Voices” is another brooding, bleak track that features more keys than strings and it doesn’t go anywhere particularly interesting. “Our Mire” breaks up the grey mood of “Too Many Voices” with a more forward moving vibe that is the longest track on the record, and one of the more interesting ones with its shift from trickling verses to more driving chorus. I keep waiting for the band to break loose but on this recording, it seems they’ve decided to never get it out of third gear. This may allow more time to enjoy the scenery, but it also leaves me wanting a little more of a thrill ride. This track does approach fourth gear before slamming on the brakes and it contains the dynamics variety that makes this band an emotional listen.
“Out of Line” is another slower tempo’d introspective reflection on missed opportunities and things left undone that evokes a sense or regret and foreboding. “Stop Making Sense” begins as a stripped down, typical Bruce Soord lament that yields to the marimba vibe and floats around like a ghost looking for someone to haunt. It ends up being a bit unique but not necessarily a stronger spot on the record.
Wrapping up this melancholic collection is “The Game,” which contains elements of suspension and mystery, almost like the closing credits of a film that ended with everyone you liked in the film being killed off and there’s just a total sense of loss left and a question of what happens next. And I will be wondering what happens next with this band.
ls this The Pineapple Thief’s best record? Or a step backward? It probably all depends on who you ask. I’m sure every listener with have their own “Version of the Truth.” For me and my headphones, there’s enough here to eventually grow into a satisfying listen, but it’s a bit of a mixed reaction for me…which seems to be exactly the notion Bruce Soord and Co. were writing about in the lyrics and probably feeling within their own lives in this very confusing period of history. Art imitating life? It would certainly seem so…
Released By: Kscope Records
Release Date: September 4th, 2020
Genre: Progressive Rock
- Bruce Soord / Vocals, guitars keyboardist
- Steve Kitch / Keyboards
- Jon Sykes / Bassist
- Gavin Harrison / Drums
“Versions of The Truth” track-listing
- Versions of The Truth
- Break It All
- Driving Like Maniacs
- Leave Me Be
- Too Many Voices
- Our Mire
- Out of Line
- Stop Making Sense
- The Game
The Pineapple Thief takes an unexpected turn down a darker road yielding a recording that feels like a product of these confusing times, one that might leave the listener a bit perplexed on whether to praise the way it accurately depicts the current state of affairs, or to conclude it sinks a bit too deep into a fragile climate of uncertainty and fear