Tag Archives: Porcupine Tree

Colin Edwin Interview

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Interview with sesssion basssist Colin Edwin, discussing his ongoing relationships with singer/songwriter Steven Wilson and also Eraldo Bernocchi. Album review (of his latest work with producer, Paul Mex and performance poet, Bernadette Cremin) to follow.

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Style. Over. Substance.

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One step forward and three steps back…

The slow arrival of a new Steven Wilson record has established itself as an event to be savoured: the guy set the bar high from the off; before the off, even, if one factors in his musical pedigree as bandleader – Porcupine Tree – and collaborator – numerous. The Tree‘s output has been variously rewarding, if rarely less than interesting, Bass Communion and Blackfield have mostly left me cold. Never, though, could one accuse Wilson of being lazy, unimaginative or of taking anything for granted. Each successive release has broken ground that is, at least for him as writer and performer, new.

By contrast, Hand. Cannot. Erase. shapes up as something of a throwback; a project in the same vein as PT‘s ultimate release (The Incident, back in 2009) an ugly, overwrought, heterogenous; if not entirely unrewarding collection. Much like the granddaddy of prog rock operas, Pink Floyd‘s 1979 opus, The Wall, it played as something less than the sum of its occasionally considerable parts. In both cases one might feel justified in feeling surprised and a little let down: both bands had previous for handling the form (concept album; rock opera – call it what you will) with applomb: Animals and Fear Of a Blank Planet are both masterpieces in this writers’ opinion.

Perfect Life sounded rightaway to me as close to the ghost of PT as Wilson has sailed since his solo voyage began in earnest (let’s not forget that the former began as himself-in-bedroom-studio, sans backing band). Not that it sounds quite like that band, but the mood of the track, its apparent ‘interlude’ quality harks back to the piecemeal feel of The Incident. In that sense it’s quite a departure from his recent solo and collaborative output. As far back as Grace For Drowning and Storm Corrosion, Wilson has been favouring texture and exploration over narrative. The Raven…. signposted a move back in the opposite direction…

And so it is with H.C.E. as a complete statement. The allusions to Dreams of a Life* as the seminal inspiration might lead one to believe that this is a flowing, seamless storyteller of a record: it’s none of those things.

It really doesn’t feel like it has anything to do with Vincent‘s, or any woman’s life. Whilst there are pretty (and hummable) melodies scattered thruout, and fragments of a story, the overarching juxtaposition of brooding atmospheres and jagged shards of aggression contrives to create an air of decidedly masculine indulgence.  Wilson, one feels is coolly observing the pain of Vincent and others like her without offering the listener much by way of understanding or insight. It is, to The Incident, what Queensryche‘s Operation Mindcrime II was to its antecedent, in a way: more of the same, without the heart or the commitment. Not since Michael Rutherford‘s treatment of (Peter Currell Brown‘s) Smallcreep’s Day has a musical interpretation fallen so far short of justice to the written word.

Interestingly, Wilson recently spoke of the possibility of a PT reunion with Prog magazine,

“I would have to say to the guys, ‘Look, there’s no point in me writing the material. If I were to do that I might as well do it for a solo record. Let’s try writing together, or writing in partnerships.”

…Which sounds, in a roundabout sort of a way – and factoring in also his scaling back work with NoMan and Blackfield – like he feels the well is running dry for him as a writer. His most notable work of late has been as go-to-guy for remix work for the likes of King Crimson, Jethro Tull and XTC; as interpreter of others’ work. It would be refreshing to hear the results of a more fully-collaborative incarnation of PT, if this is where following his current muse is taking him.

Offering up such a seemingly comprehensive slagging kinda behoves me, I think, to point up what is right about H.C.E. The title track is a successful detour into accessible pop-rock, rightly-compared in a Prog review to mid-period Manic Street Preachers. Adam Holzmann (keyboards) gives of his best in a sublime solo spot in Regret #9, an exceptional moment on an album where Wilson‘s crack unit rarely get a chance to bring their indisputable virtuosity to the fore. And Wilson (and KScope) shine as never before in the packaging stakes: the box-set is a beautiful thing, showcasing wonderful attention to detail with its myriad artful photographs, collages and inserts (courtesy of Lasse Hoile and Hujo Meuller). There’s a wealth of extra material for conisseur/geek; including album demos and visuals on dvd and Blu Ray.

If you’re a fan of Wilson‘s work over the last two-or-so-decades, there’s much here to enjoy – it’s as much ‘signature Wilson’ as ever – with the caveat that returns appear to be turning in the direction of diminishing, as opposed to accruing; which isn’t what one feels his departure from PT et al in favour of ‘solo’was supposed to about.

*p.s. if you live in the Brighton area, Dreams of a Life is being screened as part of the 2015 Brighton Festival.

 

 

The greatest…

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One last post before bed…

Posted a reply on a music forum a while back: ‘Top 10 Songs… Ever!

Ever?! Just 10?! As if!!

But hell, why not have a go? So in no particular order and to no-one’s schedule but my own I’m gonna publish that list a song or two at a time, plus any others that might have made it on a different day or in a different mood: just songs that really hit me where it matters and have had me reaching for the repeat button. I’ve played all of these over and over and they never fail to deliver…

Lightbulb moment (his Children’s children)

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This is kinda one of my ‘Fresh From The Vault’ posts by any other name, albeit with benefits and shiny pre-order knobs on. One of my favourite albums of last year (it was recorded and released in 2011, I was a little late to the party) was the transcendental In The Last Waking Moments by Anglo-American duo, Edison’s Children.

Never heard of them, right? Fair enough, no reason you would’ve; but within the demographic best-predisposed to like them they’re already superstars. The other half, alongside singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Eric Blackwood, is Marillion bassist Pete Trewavas, and few bands do audience-engagement in the internet era as effectively as Marillion. It’s the ’80s band that refused to die – should’ve, some might say – but in spite of having had its commercial heyday some two decades previously, its never been in better musical and financial health. Of the five-strong membership, Trewavas has long been the most musically accomplished and promiscuous, and like his best-known extra-curricular projects, EC fits in somewhere on the prog rock spectrum, albeit a million miles away from anything he’s recorded with Marillion, Kino or Transatlantic. It’s closer in tone to early/mid-period Porcupine Tree – before Steven Wilson got chummy with Mikael Åkerfeldt (Opeth) and imbibed a draft from the poisoned spring of Death Metal – and the widescreen Gothic melodrama of Fields of the Nephilim, minus Carl McCoy‘s ‘from beyond the grave’ baritone. That said, there’s more than enough originality there for the project to stand on its own merits; and it possesses certain qualities rare enough to be considered remarkable in today’s – more than ever – saturated musical marketplace

ItLWM is a real headphones album, a seductive, immersive sonic universe that is almost fiendishly well imagined.  Although the pace rarely rises above that of a leisurely ramble across the moors (80bpm, say) there’s an understated, rolling urgency in its beats and chords that sweeps up and carries the listener as surely and powerfully as a driving trance anthem or moshpit filler. It’s just not possible to hear this as a set of stand-alone songs: in an iPod age where the album form has been eroded by download-overload, ItLWM remains stubbornly shuffle-resistant. Cue up Dusk and you’ll find yourself in it for the (70min) duration – which is no mean feat. Wall-to-wall brilliance was rare enough in the age of the LP: 35-40 minutes of flawless composition and performance is a big-enough ask and the number of consistently-listenable double sets even in that golden age a select group. The advent of CD made the 60, then 70 and now 80 minute – effectively double – albums a possibility and in some quarters an expectation. Quality was bound to suffer, if not always, then often: Prog rock aside, Hip Hop and R’n’B records have been especially prone to padding out decent records with material that, in days gone by would have been relegated to single b-sides.

So It’s notable that the final running order for ItLWM was culled from an initial burst of creativity that ran to nearly 50 demo’d songs: hard work, great chemistry and also quality control made that album what it is. The songwriting is consistently strong, and whilst it’s ostensibly a concept album – Sci-Fi gubbins themed around alien abduction; plenty of scope for pitfalls into stinky, cloying Gorgonzola already; deftly-avoided, mind  – it’s the strength of its musical themes that lend it coherence as a piece. The four part Fallout sequence dispersed thruout the album recalls the similarly-structured Marbles theme from the Marillion album of that name; still regarded as a high-watermark of its 30-year career by many. There’s a whiff of Another Brick In The Wall in Fracture. A Million Miles Away  comes from the same stable of confident, mature pop rock as Don’t Hurt Yourself – albeit with a darker edge – also from Marbles. The album is rich in intriguing sonic detail: back-projected, tinkling, burbling samples, squeeks and washes that convey atmospheric depth – this an obvious point of comparison with the aforementioned Nephilim – and impart a sense of unity to the collected songs. The middling pace is broken on occasion: Outerspaced is a demented stomp rocker; Aerosmith in their drug-addled vintage transported to the restaurant at the end of the universe. And The ‘Other’ Other Dimension almost overplays the gently psychedelic element that elsewhere simply suffuses and underpins the songwriting. Totally overplays it, actually, it’s a bit silly, in a Viv Standhall-as-Dr Who kinda way. But these diversions just serve to add colour to an already rich palette in the end. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable journey, all told. The story, such as it is, remains as opaque as Dream Theater‘s Scenes From A Memory was until I looked it up on the Wikipedia page; but I still feel I was taken somewhere, which after all is what the best prog – hell, music – is supposed to do.

So I was understandably excited to receive today’s email from marillion.com updating me on the progress of Edison’s Children‘s sophomore release. It’s going to be called The Final Breath Before November. As before, it’s predominantly the work of Trewavas and Blackwood – with the duo handling all the guitars, keys and digital wizardry, vocals, recording and production – plus support from a handful of collaborators including Henry Rogers (DeeExpus/Touchstone) on drums and Wendy Farrell-Pastore on additional vocals. With Trewavas fielding a full schedule touring with his day job and working intermittently on the next Transatlantic album the man is clearly on fire, and if the last album is anything to go by, Blackwood makes for him an excellent creative foil. As Marillion have previously done since 1997, EC are employing a crowd funding model and fans wishing to buy-in early can support the upcoming release by heading over to the EC pledge page HERE .

TFBBN has a lot to live up to and I don’t mind stoking the flames of expectation a little higher.

p.s.

Having mentioned Kino and Transatlantic up top, it seems churlish not to include a little of their brilliance into the mix. Check ’em out too:

(Bit of an epic this one – amazing gig, though; and I can vouch for that cos I was there 😉 )

 

Like father, like son (update)

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Further to Like Father, like son, soundclips from the forthcoming Dimensionaut album are now available via the Sound of Contact website.

Sound of Contact is the new project from Simon Collins (son of Phil) and is something of a nod to his dad’s work in the nascent prog scene of the ’70s, albeit with a ’00s twist. If you’re a fan of Spock’s Beard, Transatlantic, Frost*, Beardfish and DeeExpus this may well be your proverbial cup of musical tea.

It’s tricky to get a proper feel for the album from such short soundclips – album trailers, like movie trailers tend to be a compilation of all the exciting bits without the filler, and I felt kinda stung by the last generic, derivative DeeExpus record.

But if Collins has inherited a modicum of his dad’s talent along with the looks (spookily like Phil from his Genesis days) we should be in for a treat. Nick Davis (Genesis, Tony Banks, Marillion)behind the mixing desk and John Wesley (Porcupine Tree, Fish) on guitar also bode well for prog-fans. It’s a prog/space rock album with a sci-fi theme, if that helps…

Here’s the teaser:

Worth raven about

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This third album from British singer/songwriter, Steven Wilson is anything but difficult. Following two-plus decades establishing his reputation primarily thru the rise and rise of his Porcupine Tree project, the Hertfordshire-based musician seems to be on a roll: a meeting of minds with Stockholm metal innovator, Mikael Åkerfeldt has prised open a creative seam characterized by an ability to juxtapose pure pop craftsmanship with the sonically-challenging. That they both share a love of ’60s folk rock, avant-garde pop and bedroom troubador melancholy is the key to the astonishing series of albums that they have – individually and collectively – produced since 2009, including Opeth‘s Heritage, Storm Corrosion‘s eponymous debut and Wilson‘s last solo outing, Grace for Drowning. They make dense, multi-layered records that are more accessible than they reasonably ought to be, yet pull no imaginative punches. If you were lucky enough to get hold of one of the 5000 special edition pre-orders, your listening experience will be enhanced by a beautiful 10″ hardback volume including Wilson-penned expositions of the six ghost stories accompanying each song, plus studio demos and assorted multimedia gubbins. His select but dedicated audience eat this stuff up and the £40 I paid for it before Xmas last year seems like a snip for such quality product.

The cast of characters behind the scenes is the latest incarnation of Wilson‘s touring band from the Grace For Drowning dates: keyboardist Adam Holzman, stick-man, Nick Beggs, Marco Minnemann on drums and guitars by Guthrie Govan. Whilst Wilson entered the studio with songs sketched out to a high level of detail, it was always his intention to let the final versions reveal themselves thru live-in-the-studio chemistry between the band members. Their essence is ably-captured by studio veteran Alan Parsons behind the console, the latter invited to the party by Wilson on the strength of his work with Pink Floyd in the ’70s.

The Raven… is definitely closer to Grace… than Insurgentes, as one might expect given the band-driven approach: there’s much more of the long-form symphonic mode of composition showcased within Raider II and Remainder the Black Dog, though whilst the dynamics are as varied as ever, the transitions are smoother and more organic. The more jarring left-hand turns of the first two albums have evolved, for the most part, into mood shifts that feel more intuitive, though no less dramatically-satisfying, and the juxtaposition of conventional rock/pop with heavy, grey, emotionally-dense dronescapes is conspicuous in its absence, along with the Darkwave-influenced feel of much of Insurgentes.

Opening cut, the 11-min Luminol will already be familiar to most Wilson aficianados: a live recording has been in circulation for a while. The urgent, drum and bass-driven intro has rightly been compared to vintage Yes, and it, especially the ‘Tempus Fugit’ harmony vocal does feel a little derivative. Cleverly, though, just when you feel you know where the song is headed, the clanging bass and distorted keyboards give way to a shuffling, slow, jazzy section that, melodically and in mood is the closest Wilson strays to his PT years, In Absentia/Deadwing period specifically. Like the other long-form compositions on this album, it’s full of nuance and dynamism, pulls the listener in from the off and there’s no sense of it outstaying its welcome. The pace picks up again for a climax that recycles and resolves the opening motifs.

The Holy Drinker is a fitting centrepiece for the record, seguing thru multiple movements that showcase the talents of each musician, most especially Holzman: he really owns this song with some seriously dark and dirty keyboard parts. They anchor the song thru its twisty ten-minute journey even as guitar and sax fly off into the ego ether.

Drive Home and the title track embody the kind of rich, aching melancholy that has long been a staple of Wilson‘s ouevre. Both benefit from string arrangements which lift them to a level that his work with PT only hinted at, and whilst the former explodes into a soaring, wheeling guitar work out, the latter develops more gradually, building denser, rounder layers of orchestration, accented by strategically-placed notes on flute and piano. There’s more than a passing resemblance to Radiohead‘s Pyramid Song, a piece that Wilson has in the past described as ‘devastatingly beautiful’. Such approbation is apt here too. The elegiac tone is leavened with a sweetness never so fully realized before in Wilson‘s work: it’s a perfect end to the album. Released as a trailer shortly before the album, it’s accompanied here by an animation by Jess Cope, whose work also accompanied Storm Corrosion‘s Drag Ropes.

In short, this is Wilson‘s best album to date. He has pared back his writing to develop his own strength as a songwriter and composer, whilst simultaneously – in a manner akin to Miles and other jazz-rock greats – thrown open the doors and invited in the cream of contemporary talent to more fully realize the potential of his ideas. If certain of Wilson‘s long-time followers mourn the apparent stagnation of PT, I for one, would be intrigued by the possibility that he might at some point reconvene that band with this new-found sense of artistic freedom. What sets The Raven… apart is his ability to assimilate a multiplicity of creative modes in pursuit of better harnessing and refining his own unique vision. A new PT that similarly unleashed the approaches of – in particular – Edwin and Barbieri would be a fearsome beast indeed. In the meantime I don’t miss that band at all: this one is just too good, and it’s tempting to believe that its potential remains scarcely tapped. It’s a supergroup in all but name, and The Raven… has barely taken off.

Future Echoes

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I don’t often purchase new music these days: with almost unlimited, 24/7 on-tap tunage via YouTube, Bandcamp, Spotify, LastFM and a host of other online sources it’s rarely necessary and justified less often yet. I am an aficianado of the physical format, though, and can be enticed to part fairly quickly with not inconsiderable sums for artists that deign to package their new releases with that little bit of extra love and effort. Whilst too many popular artists’ idea of a ‘special’ edition just ain’t that special Marillion‘s ‘Campaign Editions’ and Steven Wilson/Porcupine Tree‘s 10″ hardbound ‘coffee-table book’ format’s are always on my radar come pre-order time – and take pride of place on my CD shelf – because a) the quality of the music is consistently top-notch, b) the packaging is as solidly-made as it is beautiful, and c) the extras are genuinely-worthy exclusives and not second-rate demos and jams that never made the final cut.

February brings hotly-anticipated pre-orders from two of my current faves, Steven Wilson and Amplifier (click on links to pre-order). Wilson premiered Luminol, a track from …Raven… on the last leg of his Grace for Drowning tour  and yesterday the Manc-based Psych-rockers released a teaser for Echo Street in the form of Matmos, below.

The forthcoming album’s opening track, it’s a downtempo, melancholy; almost- power ballad and slightly reminiscent of On/Off from their eponymous debut. Somewhat in contrast to the effects-heavy, psychedelic fare which sprawled over The Octopus‘ two discs, it suggests a band consolidating their songwriting skills whist retaining traces of the fuzzed-out, epic atmospheres that made their past albums such an immersive listening experience. The kind of song The Verve used to do rather well, and equally likely to appeal to fans of nu prog acts like Porcupine Tree and Anathema. Whether you’re an Amp-aficianado, or a newcomer,

Check out Matmos here and enjoy

I’m looking forward to a trip down Echo Street very soon 🙂

 

 

 

 

Levitation