Steven Wilson – Grace For Drowning

8 10 2011

Grace for DrowningGrace For Drowning is the second solo album from Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree / no-man). Whilst his debut release, Insurgentes (2008) seemed to draw inspiration from the post-Punk era, Grace For Drowning has a wider palette of sounds, and harks back to the late 60’s, early 70’s for inspiration, especially in drawing influence from film scores (Belle De Jour ) and some of the more jazz-rock experiments (Remainder the Black Dog).

The album is split into two suites (three on the limited edition). The opening title track sets the scene, a lyricless harmony over piano and hanging notes.  Sectarian riffs on buzzsaw acoustic and electric guitar, and features an appearance by Nick Beggs (who will be part of the touring band) on bass / chapman stick , some wild sax from long-time collaborator Theo Travis, and powerful, at times jazz-tinged, percussion from drummer Nic France.

Then my favourite part of the whole album – the trilogy of songs beginning with Deform to Form a Star.  There is a real mid-1970’s feel to the arrangement of this song – which harks back to a bygone era, and could have easily have fallen off a Steely Dan or Randy Newman album, or maybe The Strawbs Bursting At The SeamsDeform… also utilises the delicious Stars Die era harmonies long missing from recent Porcupine Tree albums.

The production has always been an important part of SW’s work, as important as individual musician’s performances and Grace For Drowning delivers one of my favourite Wilson productions (time will tell, but possibly on a par with my previous favourite production on no-man’s Returning Jesus). With no traces of metal to be heard on the album (the heavier passages are often powered by acoustic guitar and keyboards) there is a real sense of space, so key passages and moments can be emphasised with subtlety, and No Part Of Me, featuring a wonderful, emotive string section, fluid bass from Trey Gunn and spikey touch guitar from Markus Reuter, perfectly highlights how the album can switch from light to dark in an instant.

no part of me live – from the official Steven Wilson Soundcloud page

iPhone / iPad version

And then there’s Postcard.  Fast becoming my favourite song of 2011, this track is by far the most accessible on the album, and is deserving of its release as a download single. Hopefully it will lead to a wider audience for the album, outside of the usual Porcupine Tree / progressive audience.

“I’m lame and self-obsessed, that I will concede”.

Simply executed, and with such a sad and lonely lyric, Postcard ends with haunting choral vocals from Synergy (who have worked with Steve Reich in the past).

“All that matters disappeared when I lost you.”

Remainder The Black Dog, featuring Steve Hackett, ends the first disc and sets the mood for the rest of the material, which is much darker in tone.  Awash with Rhodes keyboards fills, and shifting time signatures, this is probably the only track that would not sound out of place on a Porcupine Tree album.

After the French-tinged lightness of Belle De Jour, one of the most disturbing songs on the album is Index, which apparently draws inspiration from the 1960’s John Fowles novel, The Collector, a story that inspired tracks from The Jam (The Butterfly Collector) and Nine Inch Nails among others.  SW affects a strange accent on certain words on this track, sounding almost like an old fashioned London accent, which presumably ties in with the books content.  The song ends with a vocoderised mantra laid over a powerful string and drums outro, leading into the equally dark Track One, which I read online might be  inspired lyrically by the Swedish Eriksson sisters.  The darkness of the song gives way to a simple, moving ending, of acoustic guitar and minimal piano topped by a Gilmouresque lead guitar solo.

The longest track on the album, at over 23 minutes is Raider II, which has some of it’s riffs referenced in other tracks earlier in the album, and during the first vocal section really reminds me of the underrated Martin Grech Unholy album from a few years ago. It’s a constantly shifting beast of a track, and even at 23 minutes, does not overstay it’s welcome.  At times Raider II hints at 70’s jazz-rock, of the kind performed by Colosseum or Mahavishnu Orchestra, as much as it pays homage to past progressive giants such as Yes or Caravan. Raider II is one of the tracks were Wilson’s lack of compression/ limiters in the mastering stage really pays off, as the dynamics in some of the quietest parts are as powerful as when the track is at its most frenetic and chaotic.  The track ends on a distorted bass solo and heads off into PT territory for a while as it arrives at its sinister jazz conclusion, like a long-lost outtake from a David Lynch film.  I thought it was fitting that the longest track on Grace for Drowning has the longest section of this review! I hope you don’t mind.  Have a listen to an edit of the track towards the bottom of this page.

Like Dust I Have Cleared From My Eye closes the album, as one of the more organic songs on Grace for Drowning, with little in the way of electronics, distortion or jazz inflections in the first half of the song.  The familiar trademark mellotrons underpine a yearning lyric…

“But you’re lost to me, like dust I have cleared from my eye.”

As the song breaks down into a searingly bright ambient coda after the “Breathe in now… breathe out now…”  lyric you get a real feeling of serenity that is a fitting end to the album.

Grace For Drowning is an ambitious and perfectly sequenced album, with fine accompanying artwork (especially as part of the deluxe special edition) from multi-media artist Lasse Hoile and I’m looking forward to seeing the London date on SW’s first solo tour (where apparently Lasse’s visual’s will feature as part of the stage show).  The only question after immersing myself in this album for the past week or so is, where will Wilson go next when Porcupine Tree reconvene sometime next year?  Grace for Drowning will be a hard act to follow.

Stream an edit of Raider II

iPhone / iPad users listen here

Vol 1 – Deform to Form a Star

Grace for Drowning
Sectarian
Deform to Form a Star
No Part of Me
Postcard
Raider Prelude
Remainder the Black Dog

Vol 2 – Like Dust I Have Cleared From My Eye

Belle De Jour
Index
Track One
Raider II
Like Dust I Have Cleared From My Eye

Buy Grace for Drowning at Amazon UK
Buy Grace for Drowning at Amazon US
Buy the Postcard mp3 single (with exclusive tracks) from Amazon UK

Steven Wilson HQ  





Porcupine Tree – The Incident

1 10 2009
Much has been made of the song-cycle approach of disc 1 (The Incident), and how SW wanted the album to be treated as a
whole.  It certainly pays off listening to Disc 1 in isolation, and in order, but some tracks do stand out in
isolation, especially “The Blind House” and the two most melancholic tracks on the album, Kneel and Disconnect and I
Drive the Hearse.
Kneel and Disconnect is a gentle piano and guitar driven piece, that seems to be refer to the younger Wilson leaving
his steady job and dedicating his life to music.
I Drive the Hearse has already become one of my favourite Porcupine Tree tracks.  There is a real pastoral feel to
this track, with some beautiful layered synths and mellotron from Richard Barbieri.
“You were always my mistake”
As a long-standing Porcupine Tree fan, this, to me, is the album where SW has really found his voice – the chorus of
The Blind House and the delicious close-knit harmonies on Kneel and Disconnect contain the most accomplished vocals
I’ve heard on a PT song so far.
Some sections repeat throughout The Incident, with recycled musical motifs and repeated or similar lyrics in a couple
of songs, but this is not laziness, rather a way of joining all the songs together to make one song cycle, especially
as there is no clear concept to the album.
Nods to SW’s childhood and musical upbringing, especially in “Time Flies” (Beatles, Hendrix & Pink Floyd references,
both lyrical and musical).  Great Expectations was mentioned in an online interview as referencing a childhood friend
whose life followed a troubled path.
“Hey there’s you, with placid eyes
Oblivious to what’s to come”
Drawing the Line features a haunting sample and an uplifting radio-friendly chorus that will surely work wonders live.
“Recording all my problems onto memory cards”
The Incident is inspired lyrically by a fatal road traffic accident that was described by a police sign as an
“incident”.  Musically it’s far removed from any other Porcupine Tree song, and maybe owes a sonic debt to Trent
Reznor, or Berlin era Bowie.
Time Flies was made available as an edit in Classic Rock magazine prior to the album’s release, and if you read fan
feedback on the various Tree forums, wasn’t universally accepted.  The version on the album that weighs in at a
healthy 11 minutes 41 seconds is the real deal though, and it feels like the centre-piece of “The Incident”, lifting
the mood after the darkness of the 8 tracks that preceded it.  Now this IS what I would refer to as Classic Rock.
Octane Twisted is a slow-burner that reveals its charms after repeated listening, and will surely appeal to new fans
that the band picked up from Deadwing onwards.
The Incident was clearly made to be listened to in isolation (you wouldn’t read a book or watch a film whilst checking
your Facebook messages so why do this with music) and it does sound amazing in 5.1, but by the same token over time I
think I will add key tracks to my ipod playlist (no, this is simply verbotten in PT Land!).
I must admit to being disappointed with Disc 2, as the songs just aren’t as strong as those on the main disc. Maybe
its me, but Flicker is a bit too PT by numbers for me. Black Dahlia is the strongest track of the 4, and the only
track from Disc 2 that I play regularly. Remember Me Lover seems to be lacking the magic of the tracks on the main
Incident disc, and whilst its probably a good song to hear live, I don’t choose to play it often.  I think Disc 2
suffers in comparison to the quality of the main part of the album.
The limited edition special edition of the album (the most expensive album, by far, that I have ever bought, so my
credit card statement regularly tells me!) comes with the 2 disc CD of “The Incident” plus a stunning 5.1 mix on DVD,
and a 116 page hardback book that includes lyrics and Lasse Hoile photography, and a 48 page softback of drawings
inspired by the album by Hajo Mueller.  Carl Glover, who produces the excellent artwork for no-man, is responsible for
the graphic design.
Tracklisting: CD1 – The Incident: Occam’s Razor / The Blind House / Great Expectations / Kneel and Disconnect /
Drawing the Line / The Incident / Your Unpleasant Family / The Yellow Windows of the Evening Train / Times Flies /
Degree Zero of Liberty / Octane Twisted / The Seance / Circle of Manias / I Drive the Hearse
CD2: Flicker / Bonnie the Cat / Black Dahlia / Remember Me Lover

The Incident (2009)Much has been made of the song-cycle approach of disc 1 of Porcupine Tree’s new album, The Incident, and how Steven Wilson wanted the album to be treated as a whole.

It certainly pays off listening to Disc 1 in isolation, and in order, but some tracks do stand out in as songs you could listen to on their own, especially The Blind House and the two most melancholic tracks on the album, Kneel and Disconnect and I Drive the Hearse.

Kneel and Disconnect is a gentle piano and guitar driven piece, that seems to refer to the younger Wilson leaving his steady job and choosing music as his full-time career.

I Drive the Hearse has already become one of my favourite Porcupine Tree tracks. There is a real pastoral feel to this track, with some beautiful layered synths and mellotron from Richard Barbieri.

“You were always my mistake”

As a long-standing Porcupine Tree fan, it feels as if this is the album where SW has really found his voice – the chorus of The Blind House is supremely confident and the close-knit harmonies on Kneel and Disconnect totally hit the mark.

Some sections repeat throughout The Incident, with a couple of recycled musical motifs and repeated or similar lyrics in a couple of songs, but this is not laziness, rather a way of joining the pieces together to make one complete song cycle, especially as there is no apparent over-arching lyrical theme to the album.

The are references to SW’s childhood and musical upbringing throughout the album, but especially in Time Flies (The Beatles & Hendrix mentions in the tracks lyrics and the Pink Floyd musical allusion). Great Expectations was mentioned in an online interview as referencing a childhood friend whose life followed a troubled path.

“Hey there’s you, with placid eyes
Oblivious to what’s to come”

Drawing the Line features a haunting sample and an uplifting radio-friendly chorus that will surely work wonders live.

“Recording all my problems onto memory cards”

The lyrics to the title track of The Incident were apparently inspired by a fatal road traffic accident that was described by a police sign as an “incident”, which is a cold, impersonal way of describing something so damaging and catastrophic.  Musically the track is far removed from any other Porcupine Tree song, and maybe owes a sonic debt to Trent Reznor via Berlin era Bowie.

Time Flies was made available as an edit in Classic Rock magazine prior to the album’s release, and if you read fan feedback on the various PT forums, wasn’t universally accepted.  The version on the album that weighs in at a healthy 11 minutes and 41 seconds is the real deal though, and it feels like the centre-piece of the album, lifting the mood after the darkness of the 8 tracks that preceded it.  Now this IS what I would refer to as Classic Rock.

Octane Twisted darkens the mood again, and reveals its charms after repeated listening, and is one that will surely appeal to new fans that the band picked up from Deadwing onwards.

The Incident was clearly made to be listened to in isolation (you wouldn’t read a book or watch a film whilst checking your Facebook messages so why do this with music) and in the order it was sequenced, and it does sound amazing in 5.1, but  over time I think I will add key tracks to my ipod playlist (no, this is simply verbotten in PT Land, what am I saying, forgive me!)

I must admit to being disappointed with Disc 2, as the songs just aren’t as strong as those on the main disc. Maybe its me, but Flicker is a bit too PT by numbers for me. Black Dahlia is the strongest track of the 4, and the only track from Disc 2 that I return to regularly. Remember Me Lover seems to be lacking the magic of the tracks on the main disc, and whilst its probably a good song to hear live, I don’t choose to play it often.  I think Disc 2 suffers in comparison to the quality of the main part of the album. But this is only a minor criticism, as this album is slowly becoming one of my favourites from the band.

The Incident (Special Edition)The limited edition special edition of the album (the most expensive album, by far, that I have ever bought, so my credit card statement regularly tells me!) comes with the 2 disc CD of The Incident plus a stunning 5.1 mix on DVD, and a 116 page hardback book that includes lyrics and Lasse Hoile photography, and a 48 page softback book of drawings inspired by the album by Hajo Mueller.  Carl Glover, who produces the excellent artwork for no-man, is responsible for the graphic design.

Tracklisting: CD1 – The Incident: Occam’s Razor / The Blind House /
Great Expectations / Kneel and Disconnect Drawing the Line / The Incident / Your Unpleasant Family / The Yellow Windows of the Evening Train / Times FliesDegree Zero of Liberty / Octane Twisted / The Seance / Circle of Manias / I Drive the Hearse

CD2: Flicker / Bonnie the Cat / Black Dahlia / Remember Me Lover

Lyrics quoted © Porcupine Tree
Roadrunner Records B002GZQY6Q Release Date 14th Sep 2009
Porcupine Tree website
Buy The Incident on Amazon UK
Buy The Incident on Amazon US








%d bloggers like this: