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13 February, 2004

Review: Blackfield (Blackfield, 2004)

Having repeatedly listened to the entire album at Walla! *, I really like what I hear, and will definitely buy it when released in the UK.  Though the online tracks are in a fairly low-resolution format, with significant digital distortion, the quality is certainly sufficient to showcase excellent music.

Blackfield is a collaboration between Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson (SW) and Aviv Geffen, a chart-topping pop star in Israel. The result could easily be described as a slightly more upbeat, slightly more 'pop' version of Porcupine Tree circa 2000. Following 'Lightbulb Sun', P-Tree followed the 'heavier', guitar-led side of their music into 'In Absentia', but in an alternative reality they could easily have focused on the more keyboard-led, introspective aspect of the 'Stupid Dream' and 'Lightbulb Sun' material: that's Blackfield.

The majority of the ten songs are rather low-key, mainly consisting of SW softly singing to a backing of keyboards and subtle acoustic guitar, but three of the songs switch halfway through, with electric guitars, percussion and 'rockier' arrangements kicking in. On 'Glow', this is effective, flowing into a classic SW guitar outro, but in the case of the otherwise excellent 'Cloudy Now', I can't decide whether the abrupt change to a 'rock' ending works, or just sounds tacked on.

Apparently most lyrics were written by SW and most of the music by Geffen, but that's a little simplistic. Without being familiar with Geffen's other music, I do think this sounds very much like Porcupine Tree, and at least to me, SW's contribution, both as musician and producer, seems to dominate. That's not to diminish Geffen's contribution at all, I simply mean that those already familiar with Porcupine Tree are likely to enjoy Blackfield too; it's not a radical departure.
SW sings lead vocals for most songs, but for even those on which Geffen performs the lead vocals, his voice is passed through SW's signature vocal filtering, so the overall Porcupine Tree feel remains. Incidentally, 'Pain', one of the few songs with lead (verse) vocals by Geffen, is the album's second single, possibly to capitalise on his popularity in Israel. Not that such manipulation is necessary: the first single, 'Hello', mainly sung by SW, went to no. 2 in the Israeli singles chart.

Always a good sign: none of the songs strike me as weak or just fillers. The worst I'd say is that 'Summer' is a little monotonous, so I suspect I'll tire of it rather quickly, and 'Scars' features a distracting overdub halfway through the song which initially made me think there was a fault in playback causing me to hear two pieces at once.

I'm not going to comment on every single song, but one final observation: the opening of 'Lullaby' immediately made me think of 'Chant One' by Bowness/Chilvers (which certainly SW and probably Geffen have heard), or Porcupine Tree's 'So Low', which Geffen has performed live with SW on a few occasions. However, I suppose it's fairly generic.

I understand the album will be available soon from the Porcupine Tree online store at Burning Shed [no; see update], and is already available internationally from a mail order company in Israel [yes, but see this update], but I do think it's a pity that there's no sign of it being available via more mainstream retailers such as Amazon. Established fans would have no problems in finding and buying from specialists, but what about publicising the album to a wider public? Something of a missed opportunity, which I certainly hope will be resolved eventually.

Recommended.

*: Note that the website is entirely in Hebrew, so I needed directions to find the audio samples! This is the route at the time of writing:

  • At the lower left of the home page, click on the small 'Blackfield' banner. If the banner is no longer on that page, go here and press the prominent green button.
  • Allow the resulting popup window to load fully.
  • On the dropdown (drop up, in fact) menu at the bottom right, select the uppermost item on the third menu from the right.
  • A further popup will open, and album tracks will play.

[Update 27/08/04: Review of 2-CD international edition]

Comments

I find it funny that you assume "Without being familiar with Geffen's other music, I do think this sounds very much like Porcupine Tree, and at least to me, SW's contribution, both as musician and producer, seems to dominate"

Well, FYI, 'Cloudy Now' is translated word for word from Hebrew, and it was a hit in Israel in Hebrew of course by Aviv Geffen in the late 80's !!! When Aviv started his career in his late teen age years ...

So is 'Scars' ... and probably some others, I'm not a big fan of Aviv, so I wouldn't know ... I'm just a small fan.

Posted by Aviv Druckman at February 20, 2004 02:18 PM

Irrespective of the earlier versions, I think those arrangements on the album do sound a lot like 'Lightbulb Sun'-era Porcupine Tree.

Maybe Geffen's music sounds like Porcupine Tree's anyway; maybe that's why SW wanted to work with him. ;)

For what it's worth, 'Cloudy Now' and 'Scars' are both credited to 'Geffen/Wilson', so they're evidently not simply direct transcriptions of Geffen's original versions.

I did stress that I'm unfamiliar with Geffen's other music, that I think this sounds very much like Porcupine Tree, and at least to me, SW's influence dominates.
Your mileage may vary.

Posted by NRT at February 20, 2004 02:52 PM

Aviv's productions and songs in Israel are also very professional and talented (especially more recent work as you have to remember a lot of Aviv's big hits were made while he was a teen with limited production budget, like the hebrew ver. of Cloudy Now)

As I haven't heard Wilson nor Porcupine Tree before and have heard a lot of Gefen's work I must say the new album is very much in-line with Gefen's previous albums, music and lyrics wise and I can recognize his style everywhere. (maybe a bit less in Hello)

So perhaps we can say Gefen's style is a bit similar to Wilson's and vice-versa, what's sure is that their combination is great!

Aviv's voice is more suitable to Hebrew lyrics in my opinion, at least till we'll get used to him in foreign language. Wilson's vocals are great!!

Very nice and emotional album! (As we are used from Aviv and maybe PT fans from SW)

Also I think I'll start hearing some porcupine's stuff!

Posted by Ron Kuper at February 23, 2004 09:04 PM

if you want to listen to Geffen's music enter his
music box http://www.avivarchive.co.il/geffenradio.html

and if you want to watch videos :

http://www.avivarchive.co.il/allvideo.html

yours
death

Posted by death at March 6, 2004 03:34 AM

Aviv Geffen isn't a pop star... He's very popular in Israel indeed, but he plays instruments and writes and all of his songs are pure melancholic rock, like this blackfield album.
He's considered a leader of a generation ("we are a fucked up generation...", Cloudy now) but in the last few years he's more mainstream.

And 'Cloudy Now' is translated word by word!

Posted by dvir saar at March 6, 2004 02:57 PM

"He's very popular in Israel... in the last few years he's more mainstream."

So he's a pop star! Pop stars play instruments, write songs and can perform in any of several genres. Pop stars are not only singers, and don't only appeal to pre-pubescent teenagers - that definition of 'pop star' would be too narrow. Britney Spears is a pop star, but so is David Bowie.

Regarding 'Cloudy Now', the album credits state 'Geffen/Wilson', so clearly more was changed than simply translating Geffen's lyrics into English.

Posted by NRT at March 6, 2004 05:47 PM

In my opinion the credits are labeled 'Geffen/Wilson' because Wilson helped translating this song. In an interview that they gave to the music channel in Israel, Wilson said that the 2 songs in the album which were originally Geffen's songs ('Cloudy Now' and 'Scars') were translated as a gesture made by him for Geffen, and initially without Geffen knowing about this. That's why Wilson is credited.

Posted by dvirsaar at March 8, 2004 12:32 PM

Translators don't receive co-writer's credit!
SW's contribution would have been more significant than that; if not the lyrics then some aspect of the musical arrangement. As I said (twice), this can't be merely a clone of the original Geffen song; something more than the language of the lyrics must have been changed.

Some of these comments seem rather defensive! When I say SW made changes to Geffen's earlier arrangements, I'm not suggesting the earlier versions were somehow inferior or unprofessional, just different and perhaps not so well suited to the context of Blackfield.

I'm certainly not trying to diminish Geffen's role in the project, but let's remember that Blackfield is an equal collaboration between SW & Geffen, not "Geffen with a bit of help from SW" ;)

Posted by NRT at March 8, 2004 03:21 PM

Stumbled across this. To be honest, Geffen is just a loud-mouthed-self-centered arsehole :). True, he used to make good music years ago (though his songs were always distinguished by his off-key singing and aweful voice, which is why you don't hear him singing in Blackfield), and is also a good songwriter (if you're a teen), but his songs never sounded in the least like Porcupine Tree. I do think this combination works somehow, but Wilson's sound and production definitely reigns, as you assumed. Enjoy.

Posted by Yetanother1fromisrael at March 11, 2004 06:13 AM

Blackfield is a fantastic album, and SW's influence is definitely there to a rather large extent. I am a huge PT fan so I think I know what I am talking about..

Posted by Sean at March 24, 2004 07:59 PM

Many years ago aviv gefen did a work that cannot be analogue to any other musician in the history of the music. But today aviv gefen is just a zero , I dont see him continue with his old music

Posted by II at May 27, 2004 07:48 AM

Aviv Geffen is one of those eternal icons in Israel, a man who created a fuss along every step in his career to date. Bear in mind that Israel is a very fussy place as it goes. I am less familiar with SW's work, but I think this is one of the best atmosphere records of the year, in the better sense of the term.

"Scars" was a minor hit in Israel and it sounds so much better in english... it's a good one, enjoy.

Posted by RocketFromTheCrypt at July 26, 2004 05:33 PM

All this discussion is pointless.
The editor of this page probably likes SW alot and refuses to believe that there are telented writers other then SW .
But if you want to make this equalibrium
In israel geffen is well known as the #1 rock artist.
And it's not because he is mainstream , it's because all of his songs are hits, one by one.
not written to be hits, not singled, unrealesed...
geffen's work is very apriciated
he has a crowd that follows him
cloudy now is translated to english similary
except for one sentence, this is all geffens work
his arrangements , a genius of music.
geffens mainstream should affect porcupine tree
GOOD LUCK BLACKFIELD.

Posted by Rosh-b at August 27, 2004 02:22 AM

The editor of this page probably likes SW alot and refuses to believe that there are telented writers other then SW.

That's untrue, and unfair. I like SW's work, but I am not a mindless 'fan', and can judge clearly, on merit not past history.

In israel geffen is well known as the #1 rock artist.
And it's not because he is mainstream , it's because all of his songs are hits, one by one. not written to be hits, not singled, unrealesed...

Great! I don't understand why anyone would think I was denying any of that.

cloudy now is translated to english similary except for one sentence, this is all geffens work

Yet again, I have to point out that the credit on the album says 'by Aviv Geffen & Steven Wilson', not 'by Aviv Geffen'. Two other songs, 'Pain' and 'The Hole In Me' are credited to Geffen alone, but not 'Cloudy Now'.
That's not my opinion, it's simple fact, and the way SW and Geffen themselves chose to state it on the album.
They say it's not all Geffen's work, not me!

geffens mainstream should affect porcupine tree

Er, how? Perhaps Geffen fans don't realise that he may be massive in Israel, but elsewhere he is totally unknown. Remember that when Geffen first contacted SW, even SW hadn't heard of him, and had to ask an Israeli P-Tree fan!

Have a look at three mainstream international music retail websites: Amazon.com, .co.uk & .de and you'll see nothing at all by Geffen in the USA, two out-of-print (and unavailable) 1999 Geffen albums at the UK site, and one 1986 Geffen album at the German site, available but ranked number 82,915 in popularity.

It's undeniable that the success of 'Blackfield' in Israel is due to Geffen being so famous, but outside Israel, that's no help!

And please don't read that as some sort of criticism of Geffen. I don't like it, but it is simply the proven truth, not my opinion.

Posted by NRT at August 27, 2004 09:51 AM

PLEASE NOTE:
This posting is about Blackfield, the collaboration of Steven Wilson and Aviv Geffen, but not either artist individually.

Comments on this posting are very welcome, but further comments about Geffen alone, or SW alone, will be removed.

If you want to solely talk about SW, there are other postings on which to comment. If you want to solely talk about Geffen, there are other blogs.

Posted by NRT at September 2, 2004 09:54 AM
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