Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Porcupine Tree: My favourite band, reviewed to death.

Absolutely everyone who knows me in real life knows how much I rave about this band, and in particular the frontman/writer/arranger/producer Steven Wilson. If you already know and love Porcupine Tree, then this blog post won't really give you anything new. I thought I'd just add to the reviews on this page and review as much Porcupine Tree as I can be bothered to.

Meaning, 'I was gonna review every single album but they have too many'. Plus, its hard to review the really old Porcupine Tree without a half-burnt joint and some ambient lighting for context.

So anyway, read on for a lot of words, about the band that is, for me, the greatest one ever.

Sometimes people ask me where they should start with Porcupine Tree, or what my favourite album of theirs is, and my answer for both questions is the same.


Deadwing is what I believe to be the most accessible, and also one of their heaviest albums. The majority of PT fans will usually reccomend In Absentia in its place, and I can see why; its a great album (next in this list, in fact). But as a cohesive album for someone just getting into Porcupine Tree or prog music in general, Deadwing always comes first for me.

The title track itself, first on the album, is almost ten minutes in length, and gives a nice overture of what Porcupine tree is there to achieve on that album. The eerie artwork and lyrics hint at a darker story and concept, but it is one where you have to look deeply for yourself and draw your own interpretation out of it. For that reason, I'm not going to share what I think it's about.

The music is the main attraction though; personally I am a music man before being a lyrics whore. The first time I hear anything, I'll listen to the melodies, the vowels and everything else. Anyway, I digress; the music. This album is riff central for Porcupine Tree. From the iconic opening riff of "Open Car" to the almost American-rock-single "Shallow" and the eerie textures over the groovy bassline to "Halo", its a real treat for riff lovers everywhere. Put that alongside Porcupine Tree and their weird, evolving, haunting yet beautiful textures and you get an album which takes you on a journey - you don't quite know where you're going, but you enjoy it nonetheless. Whilst its a thrilling journey at times, when it nears the end it doesn't accelerate for a final rush, instead opting to calmly bring you back down to earth and rest, so you can have a nice ponderous think about what you just listened to.

Isn't that nice?

Tracks to check out: Halo, Open Car, Shallow

In Absentia

This is the album that most people know tunes from. And upon listening, you can hear why; "Blackest Eyes" is an aggressive and unrelenting opening track, and despite being a mostly relaxed tune, when it begins to rev up, it bloody well revs up. "Trains" is my favourite song of all time, and thats no mean feat. I used to maintain that there was no such thing as a favourite song, as there was no conceivable way that a song could embody everything you love about music. Well, that was before I heard "Trains".

Then there's "The Sound of Muzak", a jarring 7/4 polyrhythm which flows beautifully and has one of the most well-phrased guitar solos ever written. Despite this album being PT's initial foray into heavier music, it is still on the most part a lot more laid back. The album starts off with a bang, and as it progresses it gets darker, more ambient and a lot less energetic. This is not a bad thing, especially when considering its concept; the timeline of a criminally insane man. Its slightly more obvious than Deadwing's concept, but its well excecuted nonetheless, despite being a bit creepy. But Steven Wilson is good at being creepy, which is something I thought I'd never say as a compliment.

Along with Deadwing, this is an album that I reccomend first to people, since like Deadwing it has more well defined songs, and feels more like a typical album release from any number of other artists should, whilst still retaining the Porcupine Tree flavour of a growing, evolving texture of sounds and colours.

Tracks to check out: Blackest Eyes, Trains, Sound of Muzak, Heart Attack In a Layby

Fear Of A Blank Planet

Or as some of us joke, "Bloody kids these days"

With Steven Wilson's more poppy side project Blackfield well underway, he decided that Porcupine Tree could stop doing silly little "singles" like "Lazarus" and "Trains" and focus on some crazy music where the songs are at least 6-10 minutes long and very conceptual. I think.

FOABP marked PT's return to something a bit more proggy, and also marked their skyrocket into the somewhat mainstream. Seems a bit contradictory, but PT were only getting stronger as time went by so this seemed more like a trigger as opposed to the make-or-break album. Its also a very good album.

As opposed to a story arc, the concept behind FOABP is that of a mood, an impending doom over the current generation of youth; the iPod generation, Xboxes and weed, delinquency and all that. Bloody kids these days, eh?

I could go into how this is all relevant in the current media overcrowding of information in this day and age but I'm reviewing the album, so you can look that up another time. The point is, its a poignant and relevant record, despite being very proggy. Its also very heavy. Despite still holding onto their dark, ambient, textural 'synthy' prog weirdness throughout, Porcupine Tree have progressively gotten heavier as each album came out. FOABP is no exception, as anyone whose heard the full 17-minute Anesthetize will agree. Still crazy on the time signatures, but with moments of stunning beauty, FOABP is still, like most of their albums, best listened to back to front, but doesn't suffer as individual songs.

Of note is the Nil Recurring EP, which contains 4 tracks that were originally meant to be included on FOABP but didn't make the cut for whatever reason. Its not necessarily excluded filler, there's some crazy moments and some lovely moments on it, despite its brevity.

The Incident

The latest release, and once again PT backtrack to something even more proggy than their last release. Which is odd when you consider that the opposite usually happens when a band hits the spotlight at last.

So I'll cut the crap this time, how good is the album?

Its hard to say. I was slightly unsure the first time I heard it, but as a die-hard fanatic Porcupine Tree lover its likely I was over-analysing everything. It definitely takes a few listens to grasp the song cycle, especially as its more of a musical song cycle than a lyrical one. There is a theme tying them all together, but it is not a story in any sense; this isn't any different from PT's previous concept based albums however. The flow of the song cycle is very well done, but some of the shorter pieces are quite gorgeous and you wish they would last longer, whilst some of the more drawn out pieces can drag on upon first listen. I'm still divided over where this album stands up next to their greatest works, but its definitely good and its definitely different.

The Bonus Disc contains standalone songs that didn't fit the song cycle, and these are actually really damn good. Especially Bonnie The Cat.

Tracks to check out: Don't go listening to Time Flies, just get the whole damn thing and listen back to front.

So this review has ended here, more of a review of their latest stuff than a review of all their stuff. Still, its a decade's worth of material, and only a third of the albums they have in total. Its a great starting point, and still a defining strong point in Porcupine Tree's career. Feel free to check out the other albums, but don't expect anything close to what you hear in these four.

Keep loving music,

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