Bruce Soord with Jonas Renkse // Wisdom of Crowds
Rating: 3.0/5.0 — Songs of Grief and Desperation
Websites: kscopemusic.com/wisdomofcrowds | facebook.com/OfficialWisdomOfCrowds
Release Dates: EU: 2013.06.03 | US: 06.18.2013
One of the cooler things that’s been happening in the last few years is that Kscope has begun to be a go-to label for cool post-Floyd and Marillionish progressive bands like Anathema, Porcupine Tree, and Bruce Soord’s The Pineapple Thief. An interesting point of fact, if I am correct [no really, correct me if I’m wrong] in the last few years Peaceville was bought up by the same group that owns Kscope. This means that Kscope and Peaceville promotion all go through the same people. So it shouldn’t actually have come as a surprise to see Katatonia‘s Jonas Renkse show up on a record with The Pineapple Thief‘s Bruce Soord—but I have no idea what the connection between these two is or has been. But seeing this combination—two people who come from pretty different worlds in my brain—I couldn’t give this a skip.
And I’m glad I didn’t. I probably shouldn’t say this too loudly, but I’ve always had a thing for British alternative rock bands like Radiohead and synth pop like Depeche Mode—and Wisdom of Crowds is basically the sweet blending of the two. There’s an undertone of ’90s alternative rock, with that familiar grungy guitar tone, but much of the songwriting is very much Songs of Faith and Devotion and Violator era Depeche Mode. It’s dour and depressing, but the melancholy is catchy and driven by crunchy drum machines and keyboard bass. The track “Radio Star” is probably the most flagrantly ’90s Depeche Mode track on the album, but the feeling runs deep from opening track “Pleasure” all the way to closing track “Flows through You.”
This is no indictment of the music; it’s a plus. In a lot of ways, Renkse’s voice is better suited for this kind of music than ‘metal,’ anyway. He’s never had a powerful voice; instead, he brokers in delicacy or a catatonic delivery, conjuring up a man who can barely get himself out of his couch. While he doesn’t tend to bring things to an emotional peak through his pure emotive voice talent, he floats over the songs here with an almost ethereal presentation, another instrument that fills out the stark grayscale canvas that Soord is painting. Even better, Wisdom of Crowds encapsulates a sound that Katatonia has been leaning towards in its own way—though, it should be noted that Soord did all the writing here—and it works. Renkse was definitely the right man for the job.
As a whole, the songs fit this sadboy, ’80s/’90s electro-alternative-goth vibe, and it works well; but now we’re honestly wandering into genres that aren’t my particular wheelhouse. The thick bass drops and tracks like “The Light” might even be called “Dubsteppy,” but I might be insulting someone. Regardless of what they’re called, this is a good batch of songs, produced perfectly, with perfect guitar sounds, keyboard textures that evoke just that special feeling. The absolute pinnacles of song writing here are definitely “Frozen North,” “Centre of Gravity,” and the title track “Wisdom of Crowds.” Soord’s choruses soar, and often save songs that can seem kind of repetitive, or that don’t rub me the right way at the beginning.
Unfortunately, there are also modest missteps. Moments of repetition litter the record, and stretch out the length of “The Light” to 7 minutes and “Frozen North” (which has a repetitive breakdown even if the rest of the song is marvelous) to six and a half minutes. While the track “Stacked Naked” isn’t too long, really, it defies the dark feel by having way too much “Dreaming of Me” and not enough “Sister of Night,” if you know what I mean. It’s a track that doesn’t fit the rest of the record, and it kills the flow a bit, making the second half feel a bit laggy.
That said, there are some stellar songs on Wisdom of Crowds and the songwriting, production and vocal performances are all excellent. While the record creates a bit of an itch for this old Depeche Mode fan that it doesn’t quite scratch, it’s hardly an indictment of the band’s talent or the performances to say that. Soord and Renkse have produced a record that I will be coming back to and that continues to grow on me. I’m curious to see what the next step here is, because this is a sound that definitely could use some more development. Gimme that old time sadboy music.