It’s fair to say that no one really saw this one coming. Away from his day job as leader of The Pineapple Thief, Bruce Soord’s initial idea was a low-key project to feed his fascination with the art of production. Instead it turned out to be a somewhat bigger proposition.
Finding himself with a surprisingly potent set of instrumentals, he could only imagine one man singing them. Enter Katatonia’s Jonas Renkse, fresh from touring the Swedish metal lords’ new album, Dead End Kings. The result is Wisdom Of Crowds, a record shaped by the evolutionary strands in each man’s recent work.
Renkse has done the odd guest spot before, the closest indicator of this record’s tone being The Nearing Grave, his 2009 vocal turn for German post-rockers Long Distance Calling. Like this, Wisdom Of Crowds is very much a marriage of textures. Renkse explores his more soulful side, while Soord is a multi-instrumentalist on heat, layering it all with art-noise guitars, supple synthetic beds and skittery urban beats.
It isn’t quite the complete departure that fans of either band might imagine. The heavy atmosphere of Dead End Kings made room for discreet passages of ambient sound, while The Pineapple Thief’s own latest, All The Wars, found them expanding their reach of electronica and moody prog. Songs such as Pleasure and The Light incorporate strong elements of both, the quiet throb of the latter enlivened by a finely wrought guitar solo.
At its very best Wisdom Of Crowds is truly alluring stuff. Frozen North in particular finds Soord rocking the old quiet/loud dynamic to full effect: sensitive acoustic wallflower one minute, hulking guitar beast the next. Stacked Naked, meanwhile, is a glitchy beauty in the vein of Radiohead’s more recent output.
It’s testament to the emotive pull of Renkse’s voice that he saves several of these tunes from what are, in the main, some pretty uninspired lyrics. It takes more than a modicum of know-how to rescue a couplet like ‘Simple as I am, please take my hand/And let us lose our cares for life’. (And trust me, that’s by no means the lousiest one.) But words aren’t everything. Renkse’s measured elegance throughout is a reflection of the Soord’s carefully-weighted compositions and arrangements.
If Radiohead serve as a key reference point on Wisdom Of Crowds, so do Soord’s Kscope labelmates, Nosound and Anathema. This is very much a modernist prog-fancier’s album. The good news too, as Soord has already hinted at in interviews, is that it’s unlikely to be a one-off.