I’ve always been an audiophile (rather snobbishly), but I’ve also never quite understood the technology behind good audio. Thank the good Lord for friends such as Craig Breaden, Kevin McCormick, and Carl Olson who have so patiently explained the details to me. If I understood what they so kindly told me, I only did so for a moment or two. My fault, not theirs!
I do, however, very well know what I like and what I don’t like.
A few albums have rather happily blown my ears away over the years. I can think of many, but a few stand out rather dramatically. The production on 90125, Songs from the Big Chair, Skylarking, Afraid of Sunlight, Space Revolver, Night, The Underfall Yard, Fog Electric, and Le Sacre du Travail never in anyway become boring or tiresome. There’s always something new to discover in the production of each. And, each listen reveals a new aspect of beauty in the art.
And, the same is true of every single thing Steven Wilson has released, whether with Porcupine Tree or solo. For what it’s worth, I think Rob Aubrey and Steven Wilson are the two most important engineers and mixers of our day.
The only thing better than Wilson on CD? Wilson on blu-ray. Having fallen rather in love with Wilson’s fourth studio album, HAND.CANNOT.ERASE., I decided to order the blu-ray. Holy schnikees, am I glad I did. I’d write something cliché such as “music to my ears,” but that would be cheesy. Still. . . .
The good. The sound is nothing short of amazing with the blu-ray. Even though I can’t quite understand the technology as to why this is so much better (though, of course, there’s gobs more data on the blu-ray), it is. The sound is perfectly crisp. This is especially important given how precise every note is—written as well as played—on Hand.Cannot.Erase. The opening track echoes the sound of three well-known Canadian proggers. This is Rush done with no English reserve! Just pure imitation in the most flattering sense.
The album, of course, has been reviewed and reviewed—including by two progarchists. So, I won’t rehash what’s been said and written. I’ll only note, that I love this album almost as much as GRACE FOR DROWNING—my favorite album from Wilson and one of my top 25 albums of all time.
The good, part two. Extra tracks and bonus features. The blu-ray includes a number of additional tracks, though these are generally variations on the original album. Still, quite enticing. It’s interesting to listen to the instrumental version of the album as I have a hard time not hearing Wilson’s distinctive vocals and profoundly moving lyrics.
The good, part three. As always, the documentary that accompanies the album is equal parts enlightening and weird.
The bad. The only bad thing is the HAND.CANNOT.ERASE. booklet. The booklet that comes with the CD is far superior to the one that comes with the blu-ray. The blu-ray booklet only has about half of the photos the CD booklet has. Considering that the blu-ray booklet is quite a bit larger per page, this is just bizarre. Indeed, while the CD booklet feels lovingly crafted, the blu-ray booklet feels a bit like something Costco might produce. Good, but middling. I really love what Kscope produces in terms of musical quality, but the company never seems to have gotten its packaging down to an art or a science. I’m quite gentle and protective of everything I purchase for my music collection, but my Kscope CD packaging ripped open when I lovingly removed the booklet to read. It wasn’t as much a rip as it was a pop that turned into a huge and ugly rip. As OCD as I am, this is quite unsettling. And, unfortunately, this isn’t the first time I’ve had this happen with Kscope releases. As often as not, the digibooks booklets—held by only staples—fall out all too frequently with Kscope products. I hope they work on this. Those of us who are willing to pay large sums of money for physical products want the physical products we deserve.
If you’ve not purchased the album yet, I highly recommend getting the blu-ray. Though the printed material that comes with it isn’t up to the perfection of the music, it is sturdier than what you’ll get with the CD packaging. And, the sound of the blu-ray outweighs any objection or deficiency.
Thank you, Mr. Wilson. I continue to learn from you, your art, and your excellence.