Four Years Ago Today: Recollections

More reflections from the past.  This one from four years ago today, January 1, 2010.  Still lots of love for Steven Wilson.


mobile_pic1A Steven Wilson solo albums can only come out every so often, sadly.  Technically, “Insurgentes” came out at the beginning of 2009.  But, for us Wilson nerds who follow his career way too closely, “Insurgentes” came out in 2008, even only in Wilson’s self-proclaimed hated MP3.  According to my iTunes stats, “Insurgentes” remains my most played cd of this past year.

It was closely followed, again according to my iTunes stats, by Guilt Machine, “On This Perfect Day,” Oceansize, “Frames,” and Riverside, “ADHD.”

Like the cat who adopted us in the summer of 2009 and with whom/which I fell in love, Guilt Machine has been a constant for me since its release in the summer.

There were however, two really, really disappointing CDs.  So disappointing in fact that I’m embarrassed I own them:

  • Dream Theater                      “Black Clouds and Silver Linings”
  • Pure Reason Revolution       “Love Conquers All”

Not sure what either group was thinking in the direction taken.

And, finally, a fun and novel album, but almost assuredly nothing that will stick with me for years to come:

  • Muse                           “The Resistance”

Lyrically, a great album, and moments of absolute musical genius can be found everywhere.  But, excess whimsy mars the album, and everytime I doubted how serious the musicians were about this, I doubted my interest in their project.


[Additional note found: “Thus far, 2009 has been bleak.  Dream Theater’s new album, “Black Clouds and Silver Linings,” serves as an incoherent exercise in notes chasing notes and embarrassingly written lyrics.  Pure Reason Revolution’s “Amor Vincit Omnia” offers nothing but miserable sexual decadence and ridiculous Euro dance-type music.  The title should’ve been Lust Conquers All, not Love Conquers All.  How this could be the same band that released the captivating “The Dark Third,” I have no idea.”]

Steven Wilson’s Insurgentes

As we close 2013, I thought it would be fun to go back to some earlier writings.  Here’s my take on Steven Wilson’s first solo effort, Insurgentes.  I wrote this December 31, 2008.  As is obvious, I was rather smitten.


insurgentesThe most prolific and interesting musician of 2008, however, has to be Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree, Blackfield, and No-man.  A true audiophile, Wilson loves perfection and innovation as much as he loves beauty and tradition. Born November 3, 1967 (three days less than two months after I was born), Wilson is a masterful songwriter, singer, and lyricist.  This year, Porcupine Tree released the EP “Nils Recurring”—outtakes from the outstanding 2007 cd, “Fear of a Blank Planet.”  Like the members of Rush and of Riverside, Wilson takes his art very seriously.  Even the outtakes are brilliant.  I was especially struck by the third track, “”Normal,” an alternate take of “Fear of a Blank Planet”’s fifth track, “Sentimental.”  Frankly, as good as “Sentimental” is, “Normal” is a much better and more interesting song.  And, I’m sorry Wilson chose “Sentimental,” as “Normal” would’ve made “Fear of a Blank Planet” a nearly perfect album.  As it is, it’s a great album. `

But, what struck me most about “Normal” was how similar it is to Kevin McCormick’s “Soleares” from several years back.  Wilson claims to listen to nearly 10 new CDs a week, and he travels the world over playing and collecting music, so it’s possible he’s heard McCormick’s music.  The similarities between the two men and their music is startlingly enough, even without “Normal” sounding like “Soleares.  Only a week apart in age, they obviously listened to the same music growing up, and they each have an amazing ear for complicated, beautiful music.  I can only imagine what astounding works the two of them might create if they ever worked together.  They might very well re-make the music scene.

Wilson’s true genius, though, revealed itself in late November with the preliminary release of his solo album, “Insurgentes.”  From the beginning to the end, it move ebbs and flows, but it never fails to captivate the soul and the mind.  It is, to my mind, the best non-classical album of 2008, and it is the best thing Wilson has made.  This is in no way, shape, or form minor praise, as 2008 has been a great year for progressive music, and Wilson has made some truly outstanding albums.  The opening track, “Harmony Korine,” reminds me of what U2 might have done, had they ever embraced—fully—seriously complex and progressive music.  The third track, “Salvaging,” is a worthy successor to Talk Talks “The Rainbow.”  The fifth track, “No Twilight within the Courts of the Sun” has a Robert Fripp feel to it.  The vocals (Wilson and Irish singer, Clodagh Simonds) on track six, “Significant Other,” are simply heavenly.  Wilson’s guitar work on “Insurgentes” feels fresh, but it also reminds me of Robert Smith’s guitar work on The Cure’s 1993 live album, “Show”—but especially “From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea,” “Never Enough,” “Cut,” and “End,” some of the finest 30 minutes of live music I’ve ever heard.  The musicians on “Insurgentes” include bassist Tony Levin and keyboardist Jordan Rudess.  The entire album grabs a hold of the listener until the last note plays.  Even after, the music and the ideas linger.

Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories)

Steven Wilson’s journey as a solo artist from debut Insurgentes to his new release The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories) has been a fascinating one.  That first album has dark introspection and desolate beauty in equal measure.  Follow-up Grace For Drowning is a different beast, with more shades of light and dark to it and with a more expansive and organic feel. Raven puts that work into context as a transitional piece, for here Wilson’s vision seems, at last, to be fully realised.

The influences that shaped Grace – the improvisational aspects of jazz, and Wilson’s involvement in remixing King Crimson’s early work – are once again evident, but this release can boast greater coherence than Grace, due in part to its unifying ‘ghost stories’ theme. It also benefits from a rather different approach to production. Wilson is settled and comfortable enough with this group of musicians to gamble on live recording in preference to meticulous overdubbing, emulating the methods used on those 1970s prog masterpieces that he has been remixing so successfully. The gamble has paid off and the music frequently builds to a thrilling intensity as the players feed off of each other.  Having the legendary Alan Parsons at the controls is the icing on the cake, guaranteeing a recording of superb quality.

Luminol kicks off proceedings in a suitably explosive manner, with frenetic bass and percussion plus vocal harmonies that call to mind Tempus Fugit from the 1980 Yes album Drama. The pace and energy are high in the early and closing stages of this twelve-minute piece, with all players getting the chance to show what they can do, but it is perhaps Adam Holzman’s piano during the quieter middle section that impresses most.

The album really pivots around the twin epics of The Holy Drinker and The Watchmaker. Both are as good as anything Wilson has ever done. Drinker is moody, powerful and intense, the perfect showcase for the staggering virtuosity of the musicians that he has assembled as his band. Theo Travis particularly shines here. Watchmaker is more delicate in tone and really quite beautiful for the opening four minutes before opening out into some spectacular interplay between Guthrie Govan’s guitar and Travis’ saxophone. Piano, vocals and bass all take their turn at the front of the sound stage before a closing section laden with heavy power chords.

There are nods to Wilson’s other projects. Drive Home feels almost like a Porcupine Tree song before it expands into a closing section with a stunning Guthrie Govan guitar solo that quite simply takes the breath away.  The title track is sparse, mysterious and moving; it probably wouldn’t look out of place on Wilson’s recent Storm Corrosion collaboration with Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt.

Verdict? Steven Wilson’s best work to date.