Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused to Sing (and Other Stories)

22 02 2013

The Raven That Refused to Sing (and Other Stories) is the third Steven Wilson solo album, but where it differs from the previous two releases is that it was written to be performed with the musicians who make up his touring band. This gives a real cohesion to the album, which was produced by Wilson but features Alan Parsons as associate producer and recording engineer.

Steven Wilson’s albums, whether solo or with his main bands Porcupine Tree or no-man, have always been expertly produced. The Raven That Refused to Sing (and Other Stories) takes it up a notch, with the best sounding Wilson release to date.

A case in point is album opener Luminol.  Devoid of vocals until nearly 5 minutes in, switching time signatures, bass-driven instrumentation and layered mellotron / piano all feature. The production allows the instruments the space to breathe, and there is no brick-wall mastering in evidence.

At times reminiscent of Yes, Luminol sets the scene for the rest of the album, which is a mixture of progressive and classic rock.

Drive Home is one of Wilson’s best songs to date. Like a modern-day Stars Die, layered harmonies, strings and acoustic guitar underpin a tale of loss and regret.

“Well love can make amends
While the darkness never ends
You’re still alone
So drive home”

Drive Home is the one track on the album that really harks back to that mid-70s LA classic rock feel, and ends with a breathtaking guitar solo from the newest member of the Wilson live band, Guthrie Govan.

The Holy Drinker is one of the darkest songs on The Raven That Refused to Sing (and Other Stories).  Featuring some wonderful interplay between Theo Travis and Adam Holzman, the first few minutes of the song wouldn’t sound out of place on Wilson’s previous album, Grace for Drowning.  But it then mutates into a mid-70’s classic rock Deep Purple / Pete  Townshend / Yes hybrid. Speeding up and slowing down, crossing genres at will, it’s clear that playing together over recent tours has really helped this group of musicians gel and become much more than a backing band.

Photo by Naki Kouyioumtzi

The subject matter for the album’s lyrics also help make the album a complete piece, like in those distant days when album’s were made to be heard in one sitting, not split into easily digestible iPod-friendly chunks. Drawing on inspiration from 19th Century ghost and supernatural writers such as Edgar Allan Poe, the lyrics touch on subjects such as the spirit of a busker who continues to play (badly) long after his body departs this earth (Luminol) and a man who is haunted by the ghost of his wife whose body he buried under the floorboards (The Watchmaker).

The Pin Drop has a real Martin Grech feel about the arrangement, and contains the wonderful line, that sums up the theme of the album:

“I have not lived and loved enough”

It’s the shortest track on the album, and one of the most immediate and powerful. Lyrically almost a companion piece to Porcupine Tree’s Heartattack in a Lay By, both sets of lyrics touch on regret and sadness as someone’s life reaches it’s premature end.

The Pin Drop is one of the tracks that I keep coming back to and one which would make a fine single – although do singles exist anymore?

The Watchmaker will probably appeal most to fans who lean towards progressive rock.  A slowly building pastoral sounding arrangement for the first quarter of the song, before the organs and percussion up the pace.  The mighty Nick Beggs really shines on this track.

Photo by Naki Kouyioumtzis

The Raven That Refused to Sing is the album closer, and what a beautiful way to end the journey.  Starting off like a track from Storm Corrosion, before developing into the song that will surely be a staple of Wilson’s live shows for many years to come.

I hear hints of Radiohead and Sigur Ros in the arrangement, but also a flavour of Wilson’s first solo release Insurgentes. It’s an incredibly moving song that hits you really hard the more you hear it.

“Sing to me raven
I miss her so much
Sing to me Lily
I miss you so much”

If you don’t shed a tear as the song reaches it’s climax, you have no heart, no soul, and you should leave my blog now!

The deluxe version of this album includes a CD of demo versions of all the songs – obviously Steven Wilson demos are the quality of most people’s finished albums, but they offer a fascinating insight into the albums development and show what an impact the musicians and Alan Parsons made to the finished release.

Album of the year already? It depends on what else comes out over the next 10 months, but I think it’s safe to say that The Raven That Refused to Sing (and Other Stories) will be on my list come December 2013. A Wilson career best?  Yes, it’s up there with no-man‘s Together We’re Stranger for me, and is already shaping up to be my favourite Wilson solo release.

The only negative for me (which I touched upon in my Grace for Drowning review) is that the freedom Wilson seems to be really enjoying in his solo work means I really don’t see Porcupine Tree reconvening anytime soon.  I hope I’m wrong, as Porcupine Tree are one of my favourite bands, but with albums of this quality, the blow is somewhat lessened.

Watch the video for The Raven That Refused To Sing:

The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories) is released by Kscope on 25 Feb 2013.

You can buy The Raven That Refused to Sing (and Other Stories) in various formats, including vinyl, from the official Steven Wilson store on Burning Shed.

Buy The Raven That Refused to Sing (and Other Stories) CD on Amazon UK

Buy The Raven That Refused to Sing (and Other Stories) Bluray on Amazon UK

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Producers – Made in Basing Street

30 06 2012

Producers are Lol Creme (Godley & Creme, 10cc), Trevor Horn (producer known for his work with Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Seal, ABC‘s Lexicon of Love, Grace Jones Slave to the Rhythm and singer / bassist in The Buggles and for one album, Yes), Stephen Lipson (guitarist / engineer / producer who worked with Horn on a lot of ZTT recordings) and Ash Soan (former Del Amitri / Squeeze drummer, now an in-demand session drummer).

The band started out as a live covers band, albeit made up of multi-million selling producers / musicians! The Producers initially existed as a way for the musicians to escape from the confines of the studio environment, and they rehearsed a set of songs by other artists that they had produced over the years.

The project soon grew into something greater and the band released a couple of singles (Freeway & Barking Up The Right Tree) in 2007, but this is their first full-length release, almost six years in the making.

Album opener Freeway is ushered in with Frankie-esque synths, and is a love-song to driving around Los Angeles.  Freeway introduces the two main vocalists on the album – singer / songwriter Chris Braide and Ryan Malloy (former vocalist in the short-lived post Holly Johnson Frankie Goes to Hollywood).

Geoff Downes (The Buggles / Asia) is another key player, appearing on every track, contributing keyboards, piano and rhodes.

Your Life is the first of three songs featuring Trevor Horn on lead vocals. As a big fan of The Buggles and the Yes Drama album, I had hoped for more Horn lead vocals. Maybe the next album? Ryan Malloy takes over lead vocals on the chorus of Your Life.

An extended version of the track can be found on the 2 disc version of the album, and it works well in an extended format, with some lovely trademark Trevor Horn heavy reverb on the vocals. There is a lovely pace to the song in this extended mix.

ZTT regular Luís Jardim also appears on Your Life, and the extended version on the second disc features Ryan Malloy on vocals throughout the song.

copyright Producers

Man on the Moon is a mid-70s FM radio style ballad with a fine vocal performance from Malloy and an outstanding guitar solo from Steve Lipson.

The haunting Every Single Night In Jamaica features Trevor Horn as the sole vocalist, and builds towards a killer chorus. Maybe this is how The Buggles would sound in 2012 if they were still recording?

“I know it’s you I should call
But my hearts not in it at all.”

Stay Elaine would not sound out of place on a mid-70s Rod Stewart album (that’s not a criticism by the way), and at times has hints of Del Amitri. Lovely guitar harmonics see out the song.

Barking Up The Right Tree is the only song to feature Lol Creme on lead vocals. A different version from the 2007 release, it’s one of the strongest songs on the album and is sequenced well to follow the previous track, which has a similar 70s feel. Gorgeous layered harmonies on top of Steve Lipson’s slide guitar make this song a personal album highlight.

Garden Of Flowers is the final song to feature Trevor Horn on lead vocals, and has touching lyrics, which possibly reference a personal tragedy that has been well documented. Despite it’s subject matter, it’s a very uplifting song, and highlights that although he is known primarily for his production skills, Horn is a unique vocalist and a damn fine bass player.

The album ends with a couple of uptempo songs – Watching You Out There and the album closer, You & I, another track with Chris Braide on lead vocals. Although Chris features throughout the album, he is no longer part of the band, but continues to record his own music, as well as writing for artists such as Lana del Rey and Sia.

I would recommend the 2-CD version of the album, which contains a hidden track at the end.  I won’t give too much away, but it goes back to the beginning of the band, with a live cover version of a key song by a band I’ve already mentioned.  That’s all I’m saying…. Ha!

Made in Basing Street is an excellent rock / pop album.  Hopefully it won’t take six years for Horn / Creme / Lipson & Soan to put together a follow-up release.

Made In Basing Street (2 CD version) at Amazon
Made in Basing Street (single CD) on Amazon





End of Year Favourites

28 12 2011

It’s that time of year again, and here are some of my favourites from 2011 as it draws to its close.

I’ve tried to include audio or video clips where they are available, but I will not upload unofficial media.  If you like what you hear or see, don’t steal the music, support the artists and buy their albums or films.

Gavin Castleton

It’s been a quiet year from Gavin – sadly no new album in 2011 but a couple of free downloads appeared on Gavin’s SoundCloud account, including one of my favourite tracks of the year, Swim Good.  

Swim Good is a track from Frank Ocean‘s Nostalgia, Ultra mixtape release.  Gavin takes the song to another level, underpinning Ocean’s song with my favourite Portishead track, Roads from 1994’s Dummy album.

Listen to Gavin Castleton‘s version of Swim Good below

Listen to Swim Good on iPhone or iPad.

More Gavin Castleton music on cdbaby or iTunes

The National – High Violet

The album that soundtracked my summer.  And yes, I’m a bit late with this album, as it was released in 2010.  If you don’t already have the album, I’d suggest picking up the expanded version which has 7 extra tracks. Lemonworld is my favourite track on the album:

“I was a comfortable kid
But I don’t think about it much anymore
Lay me on the table, put flowers in my mouth”

Runaway is another highlight, sounding like a song that could have come from any era from the 1950’s onwards. Lovely strings (and a rarity in alternative rock, trumpet) on this track.

Watch a live version of Anyone’s Ghost below.

Buy The National – High Violet (expanded edition) or regular CD on Amazon

Wild Beasts – Smother

Deeper (with its Blue Nile Tinseltown In The Rain sounding drums) and Loop the Loop were the tracks I played most from this 2011 album from Cumbrian band Wild Beasts.

There are echoes of the late, great Billy MacKenzie in the vocals at times, and a lovely warm production on this album that makes Smother a more rounded album than 2009’s Mercury Prize nominated Two Dancers.

Watch the band perform Lion’s Share from Smother on Later With Jools Holland

Buy Smother on Amazon

Niki & the Dove

Swedish electronic duo Niki & the Dove releasedthe 7 track  The Drummer EP in 2011. Sounding at times like Stevie Nicks backed by Prince, I wonder if the duo’s name is some sort of Prince homage (Darling Nikki / When Doves Cry?).

Mother Protect starts off like a Siouxsie & the Banshees track from Ju Ju before turning into a wonderful electronic anthem, with a monumental key-change rounding off the song. Pop music is alive and well in Sweden, it seems.

Listen to Mother Protect from the Niki & the Dove Soundcloud site

Watch the video for The Drummer

Buy The Drummer EP on Amazon

Yes – Fly From Here

My favourite Yes album is Drama from 1980, when Trevor Horn & Geoff Downes of The Buggles were in the band (the Yeggles lineup), so its no surprise that I enjoyed Fly From Here, which has Geoff Downes back in the band, and Trevor Horn back behind the mixing desk.

New vocalist Benoît David sits comfortably in the mix, and the album is built round a track that was written by Downes / Horn prior to joining the band in 1980. The Buggles connection continues with Life on a Film Set, which is based on Riding a Tide from The Buggles second, and final album, Adventures in Modern Recording.

Watch the Fly From Here video below

Buy Yes – Fly From Here on Amazon

Pink Floyd remasters

Some of my favourite Floyd albums were re-released this year, in remastered form, with Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals and The Wall sounding better than ever.

Granted they sounded pretty good in the beginning, but the 2011 re-masters avoid the common trick of brickwall mastering, when there is no space for the music to breathe or hit peaks and lows, and the end result is a terribly clipped mix.

Watch the Pink Floyd remasters TV advert below (full 2 minute ad)

Buy Dark Side of the Moon double CD
Buy Wish You Were Here double CD
Buy Animals CD
Buy The Wall double CD or pre-order the 3 CD box-set

And some albums I reviewed earlier this year…

White Willow – Terminal Twlight

Kate Bush – 50 Words for Snow

Thomas Dolby – A Map Of The Floating City

Steven Wilson – Grace For Drowning

Memories of Machines – Warm Winter

Slow Electric – Slow Electric

Releases I’m looking forward to in 2011

    • A new album from Lone Wolf (the follow-up to 2010’s The Devil & I)
    • a duets album from David Sylvian and Joan as Policewoman
    • InGladAloneness the final release from Dalis Car (the late Mick Karn & vocalist Peter Murphy from Bauhaus)
    • Hugh Cornwell‘s Totem & Taboo – which is being produced by Steve Albini in Chicago.  Live version (audience recording) of In the Dead of Night from the album below

Film

The majority of films I’ve wanted to see this year – such as Melancholia, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, I didn’t get round to seeing at the cinema, so I’m looking forward to their release on DVD / Blu-ray in early 2012. Hopefully I’ll review them soon.

Watch The Tree of Life trailer below.

TV

Boardwalk Empire

The quality of the writing, directing and the sets did not let-up for the second season. But in the final episode of the series, they killed off my favourite character.  I won’t give away the identity, but it was a shocker. Oh Nucky, how could you?

Buy Boardwalk Empire Season 1 on DVD or Blu-ray

Watch the Season 2 trailer

The Fades

The Fades is a British supernatural drama, about a teenager who can see spirits of the dead (the Fades). Some of the dead have not managed to make their way to heaven and so remain on earth, and become vengeful towards humans.

The battle between those who can see the dead (Angelics) and the Fades plays out over six episodes, and although the the special effects were not Hollywood quality, it really does not matter as the story was so well written. I’m hoping it pulled in enough viewers to warrant a second series, and a larger audience.

Watch The Fades trailer below

Buy The Fades DVD or Blu-ray on Amazon

Outcasts

Another BBC series was a personal highlight of 2011. Outcasts, a sci-fi drama set in the year 2060, has all the hallmarks of a future television cult classic.

The series is set around survivors from a dying Earth colonizing the planet Carpathia, and the developing conflict between the humans and the Advanced Cultivars (ACs) a group of artificially created humans. Good scripts, strong acting and powerful cinematography (Outcasts was filmed in an alien looking South African landscape), was not enough, and the series finished on a cliff-hanger ending, with no second series.

Watch the Outcasts trailer

Buy Outcasts on DVD or Blu-ray on Amazon








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