Bruce Soord’s self-titled solo debut blends a singer-songwriter mantra with art rock, electronica, and ambience.
Artist: Bruce Soord
Time: 10 tracks / 41:00 minutes
Among the souls, I found you
The lost soul found you
This is the kind of hazy, drifting lyrical content which comprises Bruce Soord’s first solo album: poignant yet esoteric imagery typical of his writing. These kinds of themes first resounded from albums by The Pineapple Thief and now finds a new avenue in Bruce’s solo material. For this release, he pulls ambience from 60‘s folk psychedelia, modern electronica, and indie pop, creating something in the headspace of early Lovedrug, Radiohead, Grizzly Bear, and Porcupine Tree. There’s also an organic undergirding of acoustic guitar throughout each of these songs that roots them in the singer/songwriter camp, casting this album as a distant cousin to David Bazan’s Fewer Moving Parts and Brandon Boyd’s solo release, The Wild Trapeze.
Released 22 January through Kscope, Soord’s self-titled LP features all-original writing and performances, with Darran Charles of Godsticks supplementing additional guitar parts. The common thread throughout all of these songs is a focus on the past. The album’s press release attests to the fact that “this record is a celebration of the past as much as it is an epitaph,” and cites stories from Bruce’s own life as inspiration for the record. In that regard, while the idea of titling a solo album after yourself irks me, it actually makes a lot of sense here: Bruce Soord is perhaps more authentically autobiographical than many other LPs named for their creators.
“Black Smoke,” the album opener, is virtually a 3-chord song performed on the piano, measured throughout by a steady Bb quarter note. Interestingly enough, all I can hear is a Dave Matthew’s Band tune called “Out of My Hands” that follows the same pattern, droning a quarter note beneath the melody. Bruce sings breathlessly of seeing the “roads we crossed” and criss-crossing paths “not lost,” as though having a birds-eye view of his own history, embodied in the image of his boyhood town. Simple, artsy, and emotive, this short song has plenty of atmosphere and sets the tone for the compositions to follow. “Buried Here” continues the same ethereal, dream-like vibe, employing more electric guitar and percussion to give the song a bit of a growl. Echoing percussion and synth, coupled with an alternate tuning on Bruce’s acoustic guitar, make the song feel whimsical and spacious.
If there is one composition on this release that truly stands out from the rest, it would be “The Odds.” While the rest of the album is spacey and averages something like 65 bpm, this tune has a steady funk groove, featuring driving bass, acoustic guitar, hand percussion with full kit, and bluesy stratocaster lead. It’s also horrifyingly catchy.
Bruce Soord can probably be categorized as dream pop material, in which case “A Thousand Daggers” feels like its drowsy awakening – like looking hard into the sun after waking from a long sleep and, despite being instantly blinded, having a sudden moment of clarity. Warbling trumpet adds a harsher texture to this otherwise dreamy tune. I like this song a lot: from the brushwork on the kit to the washed-out guitar ambience, to the brass inserts, this song is warm but sternly truthful: it acknowledges the pain that comes with understanding and demands acceptance.
I have a hard time picking favorites, but “Willow Tree” might be it for this LP. The song channels a little Steven Wilson and a little Gomez, with heavy orchestrated emphasis on acoustic guitar and voices and a healthy blend of melancholy. The latter half of the composition alters meter dramatically, escalating into an increasingly cacophonous crescendo. The other track I really like is “Born in Delusion,” which sounds vaguely like a Death Cab for Cutie tune – that is, if Benjamin Gibbard composed songs that alternated between 5/4 and 6/8 on verses and refrains.
“Field Day” is divided into Part 1 and Part 2, each a separate track. Both principally feature sparse instrumentation – acoustic guitar, bass, isolated vocals, ethereal echoes in the peripheral spaces. Part 1‘s strong percussive inserts and meter changes momentarily interrupt the quieter, reflective moments, while Part 2 feels like a post script tacked onto the first idea. The two pieces work well together, though they share few components.
“Familiar Patterns” ruminates with a Pink Floyd kind of vibe. Its questing lyrics seem to explore the question of joint consciousness: are we all just sharing one collective dream, a universal subconsciousness that we’ve come to believe in as reality? Featuring some gorgeous work on the strat, this song is darkly haunting and is another example of Soord’s ability to pair conciseness with nuance in his songwriting. The album’s final track, “Leaves Leave Me,” is one last foray into Steven Wilson-style ambience. The composition layers vocals and a central, cyclical riff – first played on acoustic guitar, then shared with synth and electric piano. The abrupt conclusion, a guitar outro played over a disjointed collection of sounds, brings the LP to an uncertain close. For an album focused on the past, perhaps this is representative of the crossroads where past, present, and future all meet – the present being but a moment, the past being subject to memory, and the future being utterly uncertain. The cliffhanger, therefore, feels utterly appropriate.
I need to pop a couple balloons before I draw my final conclusion. The bad news is that this brief little album will be severely disappointing to anyone looking for Bruce Soord to return to more progressive songwriting. (Pop!) It’s not old Pineapple Thief, and Bruce has arguably been headed in this direction with his songwriting for some time now (we’ll of course have to wait until the next TPT release to confirm or deny the validity of this opinion). The music here is simplistic, not terribly technical, and favors songwriting over album-oriented musical themes, a formula that feels more akin to Magnolia – which deviated from TPT’s prog roots to delve more deeply into art rock (obviously to as much chagrin as praise) – than it does to Variations on a Dream or What We Have Sown.
The good news is that, as far as interesting pop music goes, this release has all kinds of flavor, texture, and content. Musical and vocal hooks abound, and Bruce’s work on the guitar (augmented by Darran Charles’) is both meticulous and compelling. The lyrical content is honest, cerebral, and explorative, while the compositions provide room for nuanced melodies. Bruce Soord is a well-rounded, surrealist kind of album, with some memorable songs and some striking metaphors that altogether take deeper root with successive listens.