Tag Archive: Steven Wilson


This article first appeared at No Ripcord on February 1, 2016.

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The prolific Steven Wilson returns with a new EP, less than a year after the excellent Hand. Cannot. Erase. Called 4 1/2, it serves as an interim between that last album and whatever Wilson does next. A more appropriate name for the release would have been 3 1/2, given that most of the songs are from the sessions for The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories) and Hand. Cannot. Erase. Still, while these tracks may not have made the cut, some strong melodies and ideas make this release worth the listen.

The opener, My Book of Regrets, sounds like a missing piece of Hand. Cannot. Erase. It goes from a Neil Young guitar riff to an uplifting chorus, before switching to a strummed-out melody ripped straight out ofTime Flies from Porcupine Tree. Of course, the band for his solo work can shred with the best of them, as seen in the explosive solo and spacey prog jam that dominate the middle of the song. Similarly, Happiness III also fits with that record, as a straightforward, kinetic track with a propulsive riff.

Going further back, Year of the Plague comes from the sessions for The Raven That Refused To Sing. Anyone familiar with that album will recognize its melancholy, ghostly atmosphere, as haunting strings sweep alongside acoustic guitar pickings and piano chords. It deserved a spot on the full-length record. Less successful is Sunday Rain Sets In, as its film noir flute is not enough to save its typical instrumentation that goes nowhere.

Then you have Vermillioncore, the best track name I’ve heard in some time. I give it six months before someone turns this into an actual genre. If they do, maybe it’ll sound like the song, combining a tight bass groove with jazzy keys and a warped organ, before exploding into an electric, near-metal segment.

The EP comes to a close with Wilson looking way back with a re-recording of Don’t Hate Me, a song from Porcupine Tree’s 1999 album Stupid Dream. The addition of Israeli singer Ninet Tayeb helps the conversational nature of the track’s longing lyrics, but you are just as well served by the original. Still, 4 1/2feels like Wilson clearing house and giving himself a fresh start for Album No. 5. Where that road takes him, who knows. But in the meantime, if you liked his other solo albums, you’ll find something to enjoy here.

6/10

5. Grimes – Art Angels

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While I enjoyed Visions, I thought it had a few good songs and a lot of alright filler tunes. I was expecting something similar from Grimes this year, but I was blown away by the quality of this album. Besides the poor inclusion of Scream, every other song offers something to enjoy, with a few out-and-out classics. The run from Flesh Without Blood through Artangels is utterly fantastic. It really feels like Grimes came out with both arms swinging after all the bullshit she dealt with over the last couple of years. She’s somehow made an album that’s stranger and more accessible than her previous work. Either way, it’s definitely her best release so far.

Highlights: Flesh Without Blood, Kill v Maim, Artangels

4. Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase.

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This is Steven Wilson’s best release since Insurgentes. This album does what Wilson does best, by combining his various influences and interests into songs that range from prog-epics to pop-rock songs. Even though this is a concept album, the themes aren’t heavy-handed in the lyrics, instead relying on relatable lyrics and memorable segments, such as those found on the lovely title track. There’s hardly any guitar noodling or flute interludes on this record and the only song that veers close to The Raven That Refused to Sing, Ancestral, is better than nearly everything on that previous effort. I hope this year’s EP gives us something similar and Wilson keeps his gift for melody at the forefront of his work from now on.

Highlights: Hand Cannot Erase, Home Invasion, Happy Returns

3. Sleater-Kinney – No Cities To Love

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This may be the best band reunion album ever released. I know Sleater-Kinney said it was a hiatus in 2005, but it really felt like a split in the intervening years. This is an explosive comeback, tightly wound into 10 furious songs. The way the opening riff of Price Tag weaves its way throughout the whole track, the harmonies on the title track and the grungy guitar riff that kicks off No Anthems are just a few moments that capture this band at the height of its powers. I can’t think of one filler track on this record and it’s quickly risen in my ranking for Sleater-Kinney’s discography.

Highlights: A New Wave, No Cities to Love, Bury Our Friends

2. Florence and the Machine – How Big How Blue How Beautiful

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After Ceremonials, I was left disappointed with Florence. That album lost much of the attitude and variety I got when listening to Lungs. But I think HBHBHB is her best album yet. I love how much What Kind of Man rocks, the R.E.M. jangle in Ship to Wreck and the groove of Delilah. Plus, while Florence still shows off her pipes, I like that she draws back for subtle, restrained performances on a few tracks like St. Jude as well.

Highlights: What Kind of Man, How Big How Blue How Beautiful, Mother

1. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Just Sit And Think and Sometimes I Just Sit

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What an incredible album. It’s rare that an artist’s debut is so fully realized. Every song here had something that grabbed my attention, whether it was a turn of phrase, Barnett’s shredding or just melodies that get trapped in your head. Some of my favorite lyricists of recent years have been those who use their wit to get to the core of a character. Gareth Campesinos is a master at this, but Barnett does it to humorous and devastating effect in equal measure. Everyone talks about the storytelling in Depreston, which is incredible, but she seems to put the same effort into the quick numbers like Aqua Profunda! I haven’t listened to any other album more this year. It is a stunningly good record.

Highlights: Pedestrian at Best, Depreston, Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go To The Party

 

 This article first appeared at No Ripcord on April 21, 2015.

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Steven Wilson is a renaissance man in today’s music scene. Given the progressive rock/metal of Porcupine Tree, the pop rock of Blackfield, the hard-to-categorize No-Man and his own solo work that pulls from all parts of his career, the man has carved out one of the most varied, and consistently excellent, discographies of the last 20 years. And that doesn’t change with his latest, Hand. Cannot. Erase. While 2013’s The Raven That Refused To Sing was good, it also felt like the forward-looking Wilson had glanced back, writing a record inspired by the 1970s progressive movement. With multiple songs clocking in over 10 minutes, filled with instrumental, jazzy segments, it didn’t have the appeal of Wilson’s other work, which tempered his love of prog with his musical instincts for fantastic, memorable melodies.

Hand. Cannot. Erase. sets him back on track though, basically meaning that he follows no track at all. Instead, he has crafted a gorgeous, inventive concept album inspired by Joyce Vincent, a young British woman who died in her bedsit and wasn’t discovered for more than two years. Wilson explores how someone with a family and friends could go missing for so long without anyone noticing, putting a lense on the near-overwhelming shuffle of everyday life. After a short intro, the sun-soaked strings of Three Years Older kick off the record properly, giving way to an electrifying guitar riff that straddles the line between dawn and dusk. Alternating between instrumental passages and slower, vocal portions, this song keeps you guessing. In its 10 minutes, you never know whether the next segment will be fast or slow, loud or quiet. Doesn’t matter though. All sides will equally keep your attention.

The title track proves that despite shying away from simple numbers the past few years, Wilson’s ability to write straightforward, catchy tunes hasn’t diminished at all. In a just world, this beautiful, pure slice of pop, with its driving riff, would be a massive hit. With lines like “It’s not you, forgive me if I find I need more space/Cause trust means we don’t have to be together everyday,” he hits home at relationship issues without losing the brightness of what is basically a love song. Still, Wilson’s not exactly known for keeping things light. Routine and Home Invasion are both sick with tension, though in very different ways. The former is a piano ballad that slowly ratchets up the pressure of domestic oppression until it bursts with a welcome performance by Israeli artist Ninet Tayeb, who brings a fresh voice and perspective to the song. Home Invasion is a seething, swarming track that plays out like its title suggests. The first half bubbles with panic, the musical equivalent of hearing a windowpane shatter when you’re home alone. Once the lyrics kick in for the keyboard-heavy back end though, you realize that maybe the invasion is simply the existence of the world outside your door.

Even when Wilson embraces his progressive tendencies, the songs remain as strong and accessible as ever. Though Perfect Life stumbles a bit with its spoken-word vocals, it’s saved by the percussion and Wilson’s fantastic falsetto. Regret #9 breaks out a funky electronic keyboard, pulsating and vibrant, and follows it up with a sharp guitar solo. Wrap up with a slow banjo strumming and you have a weird, enticing track. Out of all the songs here, Ancestral  reflects the vibe of Raven the most. Creepy, foreboding, and atmospheric, its simple piano chords are augmented by a flute and strings that slip along like dripping acid. The chorus blossoms with angelic harmonious chanting, before the whole song spirals into an epic metal cacophony. The album ends with the serene, radiant Happy Returns. Bringing us back down to Earth after Ancestral, Wilson finishes his protagonist’s tale with a note of hope. While he notes that she’s been gone a long time (“The years just pass like trains/I wave but they don’t slow down”), it ultimately feels like she’ll return to the loved ones she left behind.

Hand. Cannot. Erase. is an incredible addition to Wilson’s body of work. Drawing from the simple and the complicated, progressive and pop, light and darkness, it proves that no force can erase his talent and standing as one of the best and most underrated musicians of today.

 9/10