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30 June, 2004

Review: Unreleased Electronic Music Vol.1 (Steven Wilson, 2004)

As mentioned in April, Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree, Bass Communion, IEM, Blackfield, No-Man, etc.) has released a special album of his more beat-driven electronic music, previously unreleased but mentioned in interviews.  Overall, this has several of the elements I like in the Bass Communion and IEM projects, but the inclusion of catchy, almost danceable rhythms renders this more immediately accessible than those albums.  I already rate it as one of my favourite non-Porcupine Tree SW albums.

Cover no.130, 'Steven Wilson Unreleased Electronic Music v.1'. Unfortunately, this review serves little practical purpose; I can't recommend that you rush out and buy a copy, as there are none for sale. The initial batch was limited to 100 copies, which sold out within hours. Demand added a further 250 copies, but they were sold by preorders, and that process closed at the end of May. The first 100 of this second batch has been distributed (hence this review, as I have no.130), whilst those numbered 201-350 should be available (to those who preordered!) in the next couple of weeks. The staggered release is largely because each copy has a unique cover featuring a (real) Polaroid photograph taken by Lasse Hoile for the project. Mine is shown here, whilst David Schroeder hosts a gallery of many others.

'King Of The Delta Blues', a collaboration with Chris Lewis, includes a couple of vocal samples, one presumably of Robert Johnson, which gives a slight impression that this could have been produced by Moby in a really bad mood. A driving, in-yer-face piece.

SW is known to have done some work for TV adverts over the years, but has always declined to state which were his. Presumably the 56-second 'Observer Commercial 1998' was the soundtrack he prepared for a planned TV advert for The Observer, one of the main UK national Sunday newspapers. The fact that it's on an album of unreleased electronic music might imply that it was never broadcast; I don't recall it, though admittedly I don't watch much TV, so mightn't have seen it anyway. It's obviously derived from 'King Of The Delta Blues', so it's interesting to hear them together.

'Dub Zero' isn't a SW composition, but one by Chris Wild, remixed by SW in 1993. It has a dance beat, but retains an unsettling 'edgeiness', rather than being exactly a fun dance track. The dancer would be off in his/her own little introspective soundscape - it's not conducive to a 'loved up' communal experience. Or maybe that's just me.

'The Tobogganist' has a great start, as if a ball is bouncing on a guitar string, faster and faster, then moderating to a rapid yet realistic beat. Very familiar samples from another SW piece (frustratingly, I can't remember which - yet) are added, then, 40 second into the track, a harsh, 'industrial' beat kicks in, overlaid by characteristic SW echoing pings and phone-like tones. Overall, the piece is repetitive, which isn't necessarily bad, though I'm undecided whether it's excessive in this case. The final few seconds are a return to the initial bouncing beat accompanied by the ping, providing a very 'tidy' close.

The first minute of 'Shortwave' is reminiscent of the orchestra-tuning intro of Porcupine Tree's 'Even Less', combined with Vangelis' 'Blade Runner' theme, but again a strong beat asserts itself, adding layered cross-rhythms. Yet there is a strong division between the bass/percussion track(s) and the underlying, slowly undulating ambient choral tone, the first strong Bass Communion reference on the album. Halfway through, an indistinct sample of speech emerges, gradually becoming identifiable as extracts from shortwave radio stations. In the final minute, the ambient drones rise through the rhythm tracks, allowing the end to mirror the beginning.

'Telegraph Commercial 1996' was presumably for another TV advert, which again I don't remember, for The Daily (or Sunday) Telegraph, another major UK national newspaper. Alternatively, this might be just the title SW chose, for reasons of his own!
A variety of voices state letters of the alphabet over a fast, high-energy rhythm, the layered complexity building for 45 seconds before the track really takes off, led by an electric guitar. Then, exactly a minute in, it stops.

Each time I listen to the album, I feel slightly overloaded by this point and need a rest. Most SW instrumental projects wash over a listener and draw one in, but this is far more confrontational.

Another collaboration with Chris Lewis, 'To Wear A Crown' uses microphone/digital crackle as elements of the rhythm; an interesting idea. As with 'King Of The Delta Blues', the title comes from a spoken sample.

The first without a strong rhythm track, all sounds on 'Nuclear Head Of An Angel' were originally generated by an acoustic guitar, including the apparently keyboard tones and a flutelike tone which accompanies the obvious acoustic guitar as co-lead instrument. Even that guitar sounds a little odd in places, as chords are played backwards. The piece ends with an accurate simulation of the wind.

'Nailbomber' features Theo Travis' saxophone in another fast, high-energy piece which could almost be a continuation of 'Telegraph Commercial 1996'. It's quite a contrast to the foregoing track. I'm not sure this abrupt transition really works for me, unlike those on the rest of the album; the sequencing is a particularly impressive aspect of 'UEM v.1'.

Belying its aggressive title, 'Slut 1.4' features trip hop rhythms shifting around a 3D soundscape and over ambient drones, most of which gradually become more shrill and discordant in the latter half, evoking a subterranean seabird colony (?). The occasional use of white noise is an interesting effect, somehow adding depth whilst remaining almost unnoticed itself.

The final track, 'Apres-mortes', builds a layered soundscape of keyboards, a 'brushed' drum track adding a subtle yet rapid (~155 bpm) pulse. That fades out after 8 mins, which wonderfully sets the listener adrift amongst the keyboards. Some of these merge over the next minute into purer continuous drones, fading to silence by 10:20 mins. Beautiful.
Stopping there gives one experience, yet the track hasn't finished - after 75 seconds of silence, there's an IEM-style cacophony of clocks, low-fi keyboard, vinyl crackle and whatever samples SW had left over, including a cough and a ship's foghorn. If the main piece represents dying, SW's chaotic concept of the afterlife is rather scary.

Comments

Excellent review. I've got number 124 and I think the same way. This "collector of collectors for collectors" is a brilliant object, full of brilliant pieces.
Let's hope that SW will publish it one day on a "wider" scale, so everybody could enjoy it.
I'm not such an egoist. ;-)

B.

Posted by Brainback at July 6, 2004 03:39 PM

interesting :)

Posted by nool at October 4, 2004 12:32 AM
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