(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Monday, October 26, 2009

CD review - Steven Wilson, Insurgentes (2008)

Steven Wilson is the founder and lead guitarist of the progressive rock band, Porcupine Tree. He's also been an influential producer, working with bands like the prog-metal Opeth. His work on either side of the recording gear has such a consistent aural approach, it's no real surprise that Insurgentes sounds a lot like a Porcupine Tree project. Still, the album shows a wider range than that. The songs run the gamut from dreamy to intense guitar rock in a psychedelic vein. Despite this range, it all flows together very well tonally.

Insurgentes has been released in a multitude of versions, based on what the package includes. So, some have an extra disc of outtakes, some came with a DVD-A (with various mixes and some video), and the deluxe edition includes a hardcover book. There's even a vinyl edition. So, if you're interested in this, it's worth figuring out how much of this good thing you want.

The first single from the album is Harmony Korine. It starts with an echoed, flanged guitar playing a repeated picking pattern. Then, the bass comes in like a typical Porcupine Tree song. A slide guitar wafts over the top, giving it a dreamy/trippy start. The vocals have a mix that's similar to the guitar sound. If it were a little slower, it would be a bit like Pink Floyd's Us and Them. The chorus picks up the tempo and adds a lot of energy, which drops back down when returning to the verse. This is a good choice as a single; it captures some of the album's feel as a whole.

What Harmony Korine is missing, is the harder edge of songs like No Twilight Within the Courts of the Sun. That song starts out with an edgy, syncopated bass line and slashes of guitar riff. The guitar is distorted, angry, and dangerous in contrast to the jazzy feel of the bass and drums. Sonic layers slowly accrue, with guitar covering the bass line and the second guitar building into a screaming wail of electric, distorted thrash. It just keeps getting bigger and deeper. Then, suddenly at 3:50, it strips back to bass and drums as the vocals come in for a tinge of MC 900 Ft. Jesus. Still, A couple of verses in, it rocks out again with shouted lyrics. Near the end, it collapses into a slightly atonal piano riff, but the Gothic thrash makes one final appearance. This song has such cool complexity, that I've listened to it several times in a row.

The rest of the album dips in and out of soundtrack oriented music, with a patina of Gothic noise. There are plenty of sounds reminiscent of Massive Attack and Joy Division scattered throughout as well.

Listening to the second disc of "outtakes", most of these would not have been sorely missed. The doleful tension of The 78 or the Alan Parsons Project sound of Collecting Space would have worked on the main album, but they weren't really necessary.

This is a great album for fans of Porcupine Tree or prog rock in general. Pour an Odell Double Pilsner while you listen; the body and assertive hops will fit well with Insurgentes.

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