Steven Wilson – HAND. CANNOT. ERASE. (Kscope, 2015).
Tracks: First Regret; 3 Years Older; Hand Cannot Erase; Perfect Life; Routine; Home Invasion; Regret #9; Transience; Ancestral; Happy Returns; Ascendant Her On
Geddy Lee I. Rating: 9.5/10
If you’re looking for a review comparing HAND. CANNOT. ERASE. to any of Wilson’s other solo albums, his work with Porcupine Tree, the fruits of his many side projects, or the work of other artists, this isn’t the review for you. This review is solely about HAND. CANNOT. ERASE. within it’s own context and within my ear. It will be flawed and fraught with me struggling to put into words that which the music captures so easily.
Something about the ambient intro of First Regret gives me imagery of children running around on a playground, having the time of their lives. Then the music really takes off and suddenly I feel like I’m no longer observing the children, but one of them, and now I’m running frantically after the others, having the time of our lives. Track 1, First Regret, is strangely named, to me at least, unless the frivolity of childhood is regretful. To this point, I’m probably missing what this song is really about.
In track two, 3 Years Older, I dig the break for some melodic acoustic work, especially accented by that bass in the opening. Lyrically we seem to be departing from the schoolyard heading into life, a complicated life, filled people we cannot connect to for long. The imagery I get is of someone despondently sliding through life catching a few highs and lots of lows. After a few verses, the music peaks again and when it crashes it hits this beautiful piano section that I never saw coming, but man does that hit my ears just right. Lovely stuff that. Then the music rips off again but harder than ever and we get some really proggy stuff as the piano is substituted for some intense organ work and the musical theme spirals out a bit exploring other parts of itself.
The title track Hand Cannot Erase will, to some, sound like pop, but I think this song ends up being a prime example of Wilson’s ability to take simple musical ideas and push them further in such a way that the listener never trips and is along for the whole ride. Also, the lyrics, while still hinting at the difficulties of love and life, are surprisingly positive and perhaps help drive the upbeat nature of the song.
Perfect Life sees us slipping into ambient narrative performed by a female I believe to be the character the theme of this album seems to be shaped around. This song is steady and offers a slow build that you’ll probably only enjoy if you like listening for the subtle little shifts of things in the background of the music that really make up the song.
I’ve just realized that I’m not quite halfway through the album and that I’m running out of ways for me to say basically the same thing time and again which is that, I’m a creature of melody, and this album offers so much on that front that I can’t help but love it. We get some beautiful female vocal work, the tone of the guitars isn’t mired in distortion but rather a shimmering ambience, there are several musical themes explored making for a dynamic listen throughout, and we see an album that is essentially about love, and not the cliche kind of love song where it’s pure bliss or about ridiculous break ups. It’s a realistic approach to having a heart and traveling through a world where those you love can give you great joy one day and immense pain the next. Such is love.
Though I only covered the first four tracks in detail, this isn’t to say that the latter half of the album has less to offer or that I didn’t enjoy it. I flat loved it! I’m just trying to avoid writing a book about it. For me, this album is 63 minutes of beautiful melody, both musically and lyrically. It’s not flashy though it does have moments of awe inspiring musicality. It’s musical exploration and the attention to the mix and the overall sound quality is immaculate and really what drives this album home. I admit, I’m not the most versed in Wilson’s works, but HAND. CANNOT. ERASE. offers so much that my ears enjoy and revel in that it will sit on its own at the top of my mind for some time when thinking about Wilson.