More Than a Memoir: Steven Wilson’s “Limited Edition of One”

steven-wilson_limited-edition-of-one_bookSteven Wilson (with Mick Wall), Limited Edition of One: How to Succeed in the Music Industry Without Being Part of the Mainstream, London: Constable (imprint of Little, Brown Book Group), 2022, 361 pages

Steven Wilson – the most famous contemporary artist that no one has ever heard of. Well, certainly the most talented. After many years of maintaining a veil of mystery between his public persona and his personal life, Wilson recently published a book (in the UK – it comes out in the US in July). I believe the audiobook and digital versions are both available for purchase in the US right now.

The book comes in three versions: regular hardback, special edition in a slipcase with 128 pages of additional material plus a 70-minute CD featuring music pulled from old cassettes made very early in his career, and an artist’s edition that has long since sold out of its limited 125 copies. Wilson also read the audiobook version, for those so inclined. I bought the hardback regular edition from Burning Shed in the UK and had it shipped to the US because I didn’t feel like waiting the extra few months. That was expensive enough. I would’ve liked the special edition with the additional written material and CD, especially now after having read and thoroughly enjoying the book. I’d love more material, but it just isn’t in the budget. Alas, the life of a non-profit employee early in his career, especially during the worst inflation in 40 years.

I hesitate to call Wilson’s book a memoir. While it contains a lot of passages one would include in a memoir, it is so much more than a memoir. It has chapters dedicated to Wilson’s pastime of creating lists of favorite music, books, movies, and even a list where he debunks common myths about himself. Since Wilson was aided by music journalist and author Mick Wall in writing Limited Edition of One, there are some interesting elements where Wilson “breaks the fourth wall” and includes the transcriptions of some of the conversations they had in the development of certain chapters. There are chapters of memories, in no particular order. He talks about his childhood, certain parts of his career, how his musical heroes influenced his musical development, how his dad’s electronic tinkering and making equipment for Steven influenced the development of the experimental side of his music… and so much more.

One of the primary themes of the book is the recurring idea of a struggling artist trying to make it big, but not quite getting to the level of which he initially dreamed. Arriving somewhere, but not here. While he can live comfortably on what he’s done, it hasn’t been easy. While most in the pop world hit it big, with help from the record labels, in their late teens (or even earlier!) or early 20s, but it’s all over by the time they’re 30. Wilson is 54, and he’s more famous now than he’s ever been. As such, this book is the story of an atypical musical career, which I think makes it much more fascinating than a “tell-all” memoir from a music legend from 40-50 years ago who has long since ceased innovating musically. I think Wilson’s struggles as a musician have helped fuel his driving spirit of innovation.

Perhaps had he been born 15 years earlier, Wilson could’ve been as big as his musical heroes. But then again, the Wilson we enjoy (or complain about) wouldn’t have been the same artist if he had been operating in the same musical milieu as his heroes rather than chewing on their sounds years later as he strives to create his own art. Music as a whole did progress, and Wilson saw to it that it did. Porcupine Tree took progressive music into uncharted territory, creating new soundscapes while still incorporating the best elements of the past. Sadly the public, or the media elites, wanted music that was easy, simple, that didn’t make you think too hard.

Anyone who’s heard any of Wilson’s diverse discography knows full well that “dumb” music isn’t part of his repertoire. Even when he “goes pop” as he started to on To the Bone and as he certainly did on The Future Bites, the end result asks much of the listener. I may have roasted The Future Bites, but I did so with upmost respect for Wilson as an artist. My critique came from a position where I don’t particularly like pop music or many of the varied artists that heavily influenced that side of Wilson’s work. I named my review “Steven Wilson Bites the Future… and the Fans?”, partly as a form of clickbait, but also because Wilson made a conscious decision to expand his audience, perhaps at the expense of an existing fan base, much of which would rather see Porcupine Tree be the main focus of Wilson’s career. He talks about this in the book, but he also sees it from the perspective of an artist having to make the music that excites him at that particular point in time. As such Wilson’s advice to other artists is to ultimately be true to yourself, your art, and what you want your art to say, even if people get upset about it.

Continue reading “More Than a Memoir: Steven Wilson’s “Limited Edition of One””

Rick’s Quick Takes for April

Short, sharp shocks this month: all albums and EPs reviewed below come in under the old school LP limit of 45 minutes! Purchasing links are embedded in each artist/title listing; album playlists or samples follow each review.

Entransient, Ghosts in the Halls: My hometown’s very own prog-metal band lays out the cards for all to see on their Facebook page: “Melodic neo/post-prog rock from Michigan. Influenced by Anathema, Alcest, and Porcupine Tree.” The good news is that guitarists Matt Schrauben & Doug Murray, bassist Nick Hagen, drummer Jeremy Hyde and vocalist/keyboardist Scott Murray refine those influences into a distinctive blend, marked by rich atmosphere and a towering core sound. The opening epic “Parasite” grabs hold immediately with its games of acoustic/electric musical chairs; “Synergize” and “Last Strawman” drive forward without mercy, as Murray testifies fiercely over bare grooves and fuzzed chords alike. More reflective moments like the title track, “Misplaced” and “Where the Shadows Lie” dial down the tempos and the lyrical angst while keeping the edge intact as the band prowls lush, more aerated soundscapes. (Kudos for Hagen’s mixing and engineering, as well as for the mastering work of The Pineapple Thief’s Steve Kitch; the band’s dynamic and textural range is captured with crystalline clarity throughout.) Entransient has an open, readily appealing touch to their music; as they blaze a fresh trail in a style that easily collapses into cliché, they’re well worth a listen.

Envy of None: No, this sounds nothing like Rush, even with Alex Lifeson’s guitar work in the mix. (If that’s what you want, the new anniversary edition of Moving Pictures is now available — and getting glowing reviews from unlikely sources like Pitchfork, for pete’s sake.) Lifeson does provide satisfying crunch, acoustic contrast, and creative lead work in spades, bedding in seamlessly with fellow core players Andy Curran (bass & guitar) and Alfio Annibalini (guitar and keys). They weave a darkly enticing aural mesh that cradles the understated, seductive singing of Maiah Wynne; her breathily fragile volleys, playing off the sticky minimalist hooks embedded in EoN’s web, are what might really ensnare you. Musically, this is all about basic song forms deployed in ambient/industrial/goth/post-rock styles; the seasoned instrumental interplay and Wynne’s preternaturally mature vocal work are what elevate the album above the obvious genre markers. So it’s old-fashioned chemistry and star quality, from veterans and newcomer alike, that turn out to be key to Envy of None’s appeal. Try it on that basis and see if it grabs you.

Continue reading “Rick’s Quick Takes for April”

Pre-Order Open for Steven Wilson’s Upcoming Book

Steven Wilson has officially opened the pre-order for his book, Limited Edition of One: How to Succeed in the Music Industry Without Being Part of the Mainstream, which is due to be released on April 7. Wilson comments,

My book, ‘Limited Edition of One’, will be published by Little, Brown on 7th April and it is now available to pre-order in several editions, including a deluxe version and a super-deluxe “artist edition” of only 125 copies.

The book was written under a “no rules” philosophy with the collaboration of legendary rock biographer Mick Wall. In addition to containing autobiographical material, it has a lot on my broader ideas about music, as well as list and discussion chapters on the kind of things I get asked about a lot (favourite films, songs, record shops…etc), and some that I don’t. Also among its pages are photos from my personal archives, and a short story (which might be my favourite part). I’ve chosen to focus on the stuff that people really don’t know about me, rather than what is well known and documented by now. The tongue-in-cheek subtitle ‘How to Succeed in the Music Industry Without Being Part of the Mainstream’ perhaps tells you more about what to expect. 

The limited deluxe version features a second volume of supplementary material and photos, plus a CD with “audio illustrations” of some of the things I talk about in the book, including mercifully brief extracts of my school bands, early attempts at electronic music, and unreleased demos from the beginnings of No-Man and Porcupine Tree among others. Although some of its musical merits might be debatable, my intention is to put you there in the room when I’m talking about these early musical endeavours.

Finally the super deluxe “artist edition” comes in special packaging and also includes a sheet of handwritten lyrics.

The limited artists edition of 125 copies is already sold out, but standard copies are available for pre-order for £20.00/$27.00 over at Burning Shed: https://burningshed.com/store/headphonedust/steven-wilson_limited-edition-of-one_book, as are copies of the Special Edition (£75.00/$101.25): https://burningshed.com/store/headphonedust/steven-wilson_limited-edition-of-one-special-edition_book

Beginning Again – Steven Wilson’s “Pariah”

One of the things I appreciate about progressive rock is how brutally honest many of the musicians can be in their art. Steven Wilson and Devin Townsend immediately come to mind in this regard. Townsend has always shown his emotions in his lyrics and music, whether it be in face-melting heaviness of Strapping Young Lad or in his varied solo work. Wilson’s lyrics and the musical soundscapes he creates also reflect deep wells of emotion and even a somewhat philosophical approach to those emotions.

“Pariah” off 2017’s To The Bone is in a long tradition of similar contemplative melancholic and emotional songs by Wilson. Porcupine Tree’s “Lazarus,” Wilson’s “Drive Home” and “Routine,” as well as the more recent “12 Things I Forgot,” come to mind. I think “Pariah” may rise above the aforementioned tracks because of the exquisite duet with Ninet Tayeb.

The term “pariah” has a negative connotation in modern English, but I believe the term is usually used incorrectly to refer to a person who dramatizes their situation and makes a show of being an outcast when they aren’t actually outcast from their community or society. The definition is simply someone who is an outcast. The word comes from India, where it is used to refer to members of the lower order of the caste system.

I’m not quite sure which version of the word (the vernacular use or the correct use) Wilson is using here. Wilson’s character in the song is clearly someone dealing with depression, but we aren’t sure why. I don’t think “pariah” is being used in a derogatory fashion in the song, though.

Steven Wilson – Pariah (Music Video) – YouTube

For some reason I never realized this until yesterday, but Ninet’s inclusion on the song acts as a foil to Wilson’s melancholy. Wilson sings,

I’m tired of weakness, tired of my feet of clay
I’m tired of days to come, I’m tired of yesterday
And all the worn out things that I ever said
Now it’s much too late, the words stay in my head

Ninet responds,

So the day will begin again
Take comfort from me, it’s up to you now
You’re still here, and you’ll dig in again
That’s comfort to you, it’s up to you now

So Pariah, you’ll begin again
Take comfort from me
And I will take comfort from you

Ninet is playing a role often personified by females across thousands of years of philosophy. In the Biblical book of Proverbs, wisdom is personified as a female, and in Boethius’ “Consolation of Philosophy,” philosophy is personified as a woman. Maybe it’s a stretch to compare Wilson to Solomon or Boethius, two of the wisest men who ever lived, but what I’m getting at is “Pariah” is set up in a similar way. Specifically in Boethius we see the author having a conversation with philosophy. In this track we see Wilson (or Wilson’s character) in a depressed state. He’s worn out, tired of his failings, and tired of everyone else, and it’s a woman who sits down to talk with him.

Ninet’s angelic yet slightly gritty voice reminds him that tomorrow is a new day. She reminds him that he’s still alive, still breathing, and that’s something from which to draw comfort. She even offers to give him comfort, and perplexingly she says she will also take comfort from him. Perhaps she finds relief in aiding someone else in their darkness. As I mentioned above, I don’t think pariah is meant to be derogatory here. The lyrics are too gentle and Ninet’s delivery too sincere for that.

Continue reading “Beginning Again – Steven Wilson’s “Pariah””

It’s a New Year with Interesting Steven Wilson News

Prog magazine is reporting some interesting news from Steven Wilson. In addition to the new Porcupine Tree album due out in 2022, Wilson is working on a new concept solo album for 2023, and perhaps most interestingly he has a book coming out in March May 2022, entitled Limited Edition of One. Wilson comments on the book,

As well as containing some autobiographical material, it also has a lot on my ideas about music and the way things have changed in my time as a professional, lists, photos from my personal archives, conversation transcripts and even some fictional elements.

As there have already been a few books written about me and/or Porcupine Tree in recent years, I’ve chosen to focus on the stuff that people really don’t know about me. As you can probably guess, there will also be a special limited deluxe version. This will feature a second volume of supplementary material and photos, plus a 70 minute CD with “audio illustrations” of some of the things I talk about in the book, including mercifully brief extracts of my school bands, and early unreleased demos by No-Man and Porcupine Tree, among others. Although much of its musical merits might be questionable, my hope is to put you there “in the room” when I’m talking about my early musical endeavours.

Read more at Louder: https://www.loudersound.com/news/steven-wilson-announces-next-solo-release-will-be-another-concept-album

Porcupine Tree, Closure/Continuation

A new song from Porcupine Tree (Steven Wilson, Richard Barbieri and Gavin Harrison) is now available on all major streaming services (and on video in Europe). Herewith, “Harridan”:

The skinny from porcupinetree.com:

Harridan and a few of the other new songs have been in play since shortly after the release of The Incident. They initially lived on a hard drive in a slowly growing computer file marked PT2012, later renamed PT2015, PT2018, and so on.

There were times when we even forgot they were there, and times when they nagged us to finish them to see where they would take us. Listening to the finished pieces, it was clear that this wasn’t like any of our work outside of the band – the combined DNA of the people behind the music meant these tracks were forming what was undeniably, unmistakably, obviously a Porcupine Tree record.

You’ll hear all of that DNA flowing right through Harridan.

The new album, titled Closure/Continuation, was completed in September and will be released on Music for Nations/Sony on June 24, 2022. Regular and deluxe CD and LP editions are now available for pre-order at the PT webstore and at Burning Shed. (Burning Shed’s exclusive white vinyl version is already sold out.)

European tour dates have been announced for October/November 2022, with tickets on sale Friday, November 5. Pre-ordering the album through the PT webstore (or just registering there) guarantees pre-sale access this Wednesday, November 3. US and Canada tour dates for autumn 2022 will be announced early next year.

All details above are available via PT’s website. Let the anticipation (and/or the bellyaching) commence …

— Rick Krueger

The Sound of Steven Wilson’s Muzak: Fifth Impressions of The Future Bites

[Sly and the Family Stone’s album ‘There’s a riot goin’ on’] is Muzak with its finger on the trigger . . . If you listen, you get sharper, and you begin to hear what the band is hearing; every bass line or vocal nuance eventually takes on great force.

Greil Marcus, Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock’n’Roll Music

Steven Wilson’s The Future Bites didn’t click for me until I stopped listening to it. Let me explain.

It was when I was playing TFB for the fifth time, as I was doing something else, that I finally heard it — almost as if the album was designed to catch you by surprise when you’re focused elsewhere or distracted. I found myself drawn toward the interplay of backing textures instead of the spare surface detail, zooming in on the ambience of the foundational grooves and pads instead of the gyrating vocal and instrumental leads. Instead of missing the rock rhythms, the power riffs, the extended structures and the virtuoso musical moments of Wilson’s previous efforts, I started digging into what was actually there. The minimalism — maybe even the monotony Bryan Morey detected in his review — becomes the message.

Which, whatever you may think of the results, is a pretty neat trick. So the thought struck me: is this latest release meant to work as background music, as much or more than as a foreground listening experience? When you turn the frequently static norms of today’s electronic pop inside out, is this what you get?

If so, it fits with more of Steven Wilson’s catalog than later adopters might think — sample the extended trance trip of Porcupine Tree’s Voyage 34, the forlorn, scratched-up drones of his Bass Communion efforts, even the symphonic disco of 2019’s No-Man comeback Love You to Bits if you doubt me. (Not to mention his remastering of vintage efforts by German synth wizards Tangerine Dream.) And it seems to me his new sound — a postmodern British upgrade of Greil Marcus’ concept? — is not just purposeful, but channeled for a purpose. After all, the man knows (and has lyrically railed against) the sound of Muzak. By embracing it here, he’s planting depth charges beneath our buffed-up virtual lives, triggering both our individual delight as we succumb to the age of the algorithm and our creeped-out, collective unease with the results. We may be having a good time amusing ourselves into financial and spiritual bankruptcy, but Wilson’s depictions of lost, alienated souls (by turns ironic, empathetic, furious, blackly hilarious) hold up a mirror — one with the caption “Limited Edition Deluxe Box Set Purchaser” across the bottom — and dare us to study the reflection as we spiral downward.

Continue reading “The Sound of Steven Wilson’s Muzak: Fifth Impressions of The Future Bites”

Steven Wilson Bites the Future… and the Fans?

Before we get into the review itself, I want to be clear that I have the upmost respect for Steven Wilson. No matter what I think of The Future Bites, I am not calling into question Wilson’s integrity as a musician, writer, producer, or artist. Everything he does, he does well. This go around he decided to make a pop album, and the pop world certainly has much to learn from Steven Wilson. This is pop in the vein of Tears for Fears or Talk Talk, so if you like those bands, you may like The Future Bites. I don’t particularly enjoy those bands, although I respect them. I also want to make clear that I don’t see what Wilson is doing with this album as being just like what Genesis did after Steve Hackett departed. Genesis sold out and started writing boring trash, both musically and lyrically. Wilson’s lyrics and themes on The Future Bites lead the listener to reflection. This is far from “selling out.” Watching some recent interviews with Wilson only confirmed for me that Wilson is an honest man. This album is incredibly self aware, which I’m sure made this a very vulnerable album for him to make. With all that said, let this long review begin.

Perhaps not surprisingly The Future Bites is doing rather well in the charts, particularly in the UK (number 4 overall as of this writing). It’s wholeheartedly a “pop” album, whatever that actually means. I recall thinking that 2017’s To The Bone was a pop album when it came out, but going back to it now I see that it has far more in common with Wilson’s previous solo work than it does with The Future Bites. There are a few moments on To The Bone that clearly connect with this album, but overall it was a rock album.

Contrarily the remnants of what could be called “rock” are pretty much gone on The Future Bites. That doesn’t necessarily mean Wilson will never return to a traditional progressive rock sound, but he has said in interviews that he isn’t interested in making progressive rock music right now. As to why, well, we can only speculate. Some might say he’s making a lot more money doing this, but I don’t think that is what’s going on here. I think he’s tired of doing what he’s done before, and he’s pushing himself into new territory that reflects the kind of music he enjoyed when he was growing up. 

For the most part the album sounds quite stunning. Not musically. Musically it’s nothing special at all, like most pop. It’s still more musically exceptional than 99% of what passes for pop these days, but compared to an album like Hand. Cannot. Erase., it pales. The actual mixing of the record is quite fantastic, apart from the vocals on “Count of Unease,” which sound like they were recorded in a college dorm bathroom. This record is Wilson’s first time mixing in Dolby Atmos. I’d love to hear the album on a good Atmos system, but I don’t have one of those. Even so the regular stereo mix sounds crystal clear, and there is a lot of depth to the various sounds he employs.

It’s really many of those sounds he chose that I take issue with. He leans heavily into electronic music, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. One of my favorite newer bands, Oak, uses elements of electronic music, and I know Wilson has done that before in the past, but Oak and Wilson always left the rock elements in tact. Without the rock, it leaves much to be desired. I don’t know much about electronic music, but I know there are artists and composers who specialize in and excel at it. On The Future Bites it feels like Wilson is using the electronic aspects in the same way he has in the past, but without the rock the album feels like it’s missing something. The other issue I have with the record is some of Wilson’s vocals. 

Continue reading “Steven Wilson Bites the Future… and the Fans?”

The Big Fall Prog (Plus) Preview, Part 2: Box Set Bonanza!

Since the initial installment of our fall preview, deluxe box set announcements are coming thick and fast. This article includes those mentioned in the preview, plus new announcements that may appeal to our readers. I’ve included approximate list prices in USA dollars (not including shipping), as well as lower-cost options for those who want to hear and support the music without breaking their personal bank. Links are to the ever-ready folks at Burning Shed unless otherwise noted.

King Crimson, Complete 1969 Recordings: 20 CDs, 4 BluRays and 2 DVDs include every surviving note Crimson played in their first year — the seminal debut In the Court of the Crimson King plus the complete studio sessions, extant live bootlegs and BBC recordings. The crown jewels here are new stereo, surround and Dolby Atmos mixes of Court by Steven Wilson. Available October 23 ($210 – $240 list price, depending on your vendor); slimmed-down versions of In the Court on 2 CDs + BluRay (with the new stereo and surround mixes, alternate versions and additional material ; $40) or 2 LPs (with alternate versions and additional material; $35) are already available.

Joni Mitchell, Archives Vol. 1 – The Early Years (1963-1967): Nearly six hours of recordings from before Mitchell released her first album — home recordings, radio broadcasts, and live shows, including 29 songs not previously released with her singing them! Available from Mitchell’s website October 30 as follows: complete on 5 CDs ($65); Early Joni 1 LP (1963 radio broadcast; $25, black or clear vinyl) and Live at Canterbury House 1967 3 LPs (3 sets recorded in Ann Arbor, Michigan; $60, black or white vinyl).

More from Porcupine Tree, Tangerine Dream, Tears for Fears and others after the jump!

Continue reading “The Big Fall Prog (Plus) Preview, Part 2: Box Set Bonanza!”

The Progarchy Interview: Tim Bowness, Part Two

In Part One of this interview, we dug deep with Tim Bowness about his latest album, Late Night Laments, released by Inside Out on August 28.  Our concluding segment has more about the new album, but also catches up on Tim’s other recent projects, as well as an update on Progarchy’s favorite online music shop, Burning Shed.  As with Part One, a transcription follows the jump.

Continue reading “The Progarchy Interview: Tim Bowness, Part Two”