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26 February, 2004

Review: Arcadia Son (IEM, 2001)

The IEM, or 'Incredible Expanding Mindf**k' is one of several side projects of Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree, No-Man, Bass Communion), exploring SW's interest in experimental music, specifically inspired by cosmic jazz and krautrock.  Overall, the  music is almost entirely instrumental, but as one would expect from SW, heavily textured, with odd production effects and samples.

'Arcadia Son' is the second IEM album, but I believe it's the only one currently in print - get your copy while you still can! I'd certainly recommend it, and the first album (simply 'IEM') even more so, if you can find it. However, this isn't remotely easy listening, and has little in common with Porcupine Tree, so fans of that band mightn't necessarily be fans of this; I'd go so far as to say IEM is SW's least accessible project. But excellent.

Four of the eight tracks might be dismissed as novelties or pointlessly weird:

  • 'Wreck' - Guitar feedback and sax shrieking, over 'jazz' drums and flute. Just as it seems to resolve into something more coherent, after 84 seconds, it ends.
  • 'Beth Krasky' - Simply a 25-second anecdote from Beth.
  • 'Politician' - Just over a minute reminiscent of a 70s porn film soundtrack: musak-style keyboards overlaid by heavy breathing and groans; the whole thing played back at irregular speed, as if on a poorly maintained projector.
  • 'Goldilocks Age 4' - An extract of a home recording of a child (presumably SW) reading the fairy story.

However, collectively these tracks account for four minutes of the 46-minute album, and the remaining pieces are excellent.
'We Are Not Alone' is pleasant jazzy instrumental (percussion, bass & keyboards, joined by flute), rendered slightly unsettling by background electronic 'textures' and distortion of the bass track. This is overlaid by speed-distorted spoken vocals. Personally, I'd have preferred them to have been omitted and find the instrumental sections more enjoyable.
'Cicadian Haze' - My favourite piece: bongos provide a consistent base (not bass!), over which a flute improvises, gradually joined by bass and keyboard textures. For the latter third of the piece, the flute is neatly substituted with keyboards. This is possibly the most similar to the original 'IEM' album.
'Arcadia Son' is another cosmic jazz jam, flute accompanied by (kit) drums, bass and keyboard atmospherics, all slightly modified by echo effects and shifting stereo balance, also featuring an interesting wah guitar interlude. This track also appears on the third IEM album, '...Have Come For Your Children', but there this 8-min jam is extended to 35 minutes!
'Shadow Of A Twisted Hand Across My House' is by far the longest track, at over 20 minutes. It begins as a more overt fusion of krautrock drums & bass and a jazz saxophone improvisation. Unsurprisingly, the rhythm is very repetitive (not a criticism!), with very gradual shifts, until the track becomes ambient after 8 minutes: purely electronic, sustained by keyboard drones.

The album notes merely credit "All music performed and projected by the IEM", but some listeners mightn't realise that some (not all!) of the names listed in the the 'special thanks' section were contributing musicians:
Steven Wilson (of course; guitar, keyboards, electronics), Colin Edwin (from Porcupine Tree; bass), Geoff Leigh (ex-Henry Cow; saxophones, flute), and Mark Simnett (ex-Bark Psychosis; drums). Others with less obvious roles are Peter van Vliet (from The Use of Ashes, who have supported P-Tree on tour), Jennis Clivack and Michael Piper.

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