6 November, 2009
When I first heard Porcupine Tree's latest album, 'The Incident', I wasn't impressed: too derivative of SW's 'Insurgentes' in places, lacking coherency in others and, whilst I respect their wish to progress, this just isn't the sort of music that drew me to the band in the late 1990s. If 'The Incident' had been by any other band, I doubt I'd have bothered to play it all the way through even once.
Having now heard it for the twelfth time (according to iTunes) since September, immediately after playing 'Fear Of A Blank Planet' to put me in a receptive mood and cushioned by the dullness of a long working week of insomnia... it's not at all bad....
23 September, 2009
Good news: Porcupine Tree's new album, 'The Incident', went straight to no.23 in the UK albums chart in its launch week. Consequently, the band is featured prominently on the BBC News 'Entertainment' homepage today, linked to an interview with Steven Wilson.
Bad news: the article is a remix of the usual "prog's back!" non-story and, worse, SW doesn't reject the label this time.
5 January, 2008
Joint headline bad idea
Every few months, in pretty much any discussion group dedicated to a currently-active band, one can expected to encounter a variant of the same old thread: "wouldn't it be great if our band toured with [insert name here]?". My invariable answer is "absolutely not." The ensuing argument is one I've made a few times in forums, but don't seem to have explained here.
Before proceeding, I'd better stress that I'm talking about established bands appearing alongside others, not unknown ones trying to 'break through'. The latter have little to lose, or at least the flexibility to adapt to any opportunities, whereas the former already have a niche and a reputation to protect.
One apparent benefit of touring together is that a lesser-known (but not unknown) band can surf the brand recognition of a better-known band: "X must be good if they're opening for Y". Yet that relies on the relationship being accurate and complementary. Too similar and the support band may be accused of being a clone or even a tribute, and dismissed. Too dissimilar and the association is false, which can even become damaging if the bands become linked in the public's limited awareness.
An example would be Porcupine Tree, who supported Yes in 2002. There was a time when one could ask anyone dimly aware of that, and hear "Porcupine Tree? Oh, they're like Yes, aren't they? No thanks!" No, they are not ****ing similar, and I think that support slot was an extremely stupid idea. Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree has quietly admitted as much, saying that it was neither an enjoyable nor a productive experience.
Rightly or wrongly, the typical public and critical perception of Yes is very negative (and yes, shallow NME-style reviews do matter in marketing to the mainstream): they're considered to be regressive prog dinosaurs. Musically they are very dissimilar to Porcupine Tree and it's a unfair to tar the latter with the former's reputation. Porcupine Tree is a progressive contemporary rock (not 'prog' rock) band, a categorisation which needs to be communicated to the general public in promoting the band – an objective best served by actively avoiding false associations.
Thankfully, Porcupine Tree's career has developed since then, so the damage seems to have been minimal.
A second motivation for a 'name' band to tour with another would be to be heard by the other (presumably somewhat similar) band's fans. That may work to some extent, but there are two negative aspects.
The overwhelming majority of the audience will attend for one band, whether the headliner at a Yes concert or one of the headliners at a Porcupine Tree/Opeth show (they toured together with equal billing in 2003) . The other is merely an irritation, delaying the appearence of the preferred band. That's not conducive to giving unfamiliar music a fair hearing and may – may – instill a negative impression. I don't exclude myself from that: I've said before* that I dislike support bands, and usually time my arrival at a venue to miss the opening set.
The practical result is that audiences can be very unresponsive, talking over (or even heckling) the first band's set (that's very apparent in recordings of the Opeth/Porcupine Tree tour) or leaving after the first set (great for fans of the second band, but demoralising for the band). Either way, it's a unpleasant experience, far less enjoyable than two distinct concerts.
Secondly, concerts are generally of a fixed length, with doors opening (in UK venues) around 19:30 and a curfew at 23:00. That's fine when a support band's set only lasts ~45 minutes, but when two headline bands have to share equally, it means each has less time than usual. A typical Porcupine Tree headline set lasts almost two hours; on the joint tour with Opeth, they played for ~80 minutes and again, the tour recordings exhibit Opeth fans' noisy frustration that their band's set had been curtailed too. Less than satisfying.
It could even be argued that this whole exercise is pointless nowadays, when online samples and discussion groups are so readily available for such cross-promotion of bands. I know I prefer to encounter new music that way, then attend two concerts each devoted to one band, in the company of one band's audience.
*: Actually, that's another topic I've exhausted in discussion groups yet have neglected to mention here. I'm sure I will eventually. In short, I attend concerts for specific bands, not to hear music in general; I have no interest in hearing unrelated support bands.
15 December, 2007
Review: Porcupine Tree, Academy 1, Manchester, 8 December, 2007 (w. Anathema)
Back to Manchester for my second Porcupine Tree concert of the year.
I seem to have missed the pre-arranged meet-up of PTF members; I knew some planned to be at the designated pub from 15:00, but I wrongly presumed they'd still be in residence when I arrived at 18:00.
Not to worry; I was soon adopted by a friendly couple apparently on the basis that they and I looked "suitably biker-gothy" without having resorted to such kiddie-metal stereotypes as faux-leather trenchcoats. Porcupine Tree audiences are getting younger. Pleasant couple, and that's not a reference to a laced-front leather bodice which was more laced than bodice, and which seems to have driven out much recollection of our conversation. Ahem. I do remember they weren't going to the concert, so I left them there at ~19:20 and crossed the road to the venue – accompanied by Richard Barbieri, Colin Edwin & Gavin Harrison, returning with a takeaway. Good start.
As I'd known in advance, remodeling work in the main Academy venue (Academy 1), which was the reason Porcupine Tree performed in Preston instead in April, is still ongoing. The hall itself was usable, obviously, but access was through a fire exit and the toilets were in a portakabin outside. Fine with me, but I think the lack of a cloakroom caused problems for some people.
Once inside, there was absolutely no hope of meeting anyone, as the hall was in near-total darkness, illuminated only by a couple of blue spotlights on stage plus the lights of the bar and merchandise stall, both obscured by the small but rapidly growing crowd. I'd already bought a tour T-shirt (er, three different ones, actually) by mail order from Burning Shed, so didn't need to investigate the stall myself, so I wandered around the room a little (which seemed unchanged; presumably remodelling has been confined to the backstage and foyer areas, the latter still boarded-off at the rear of the hall) then just as I decided to find a spot to stand, at 19:45, Anathema's Vincent Cavanagh was suddenly already on stage. I didn't get as far forward as I could – large gaps remained in the thinly-packed crowd – but it seemed rude to push past and obscure the view of shorter people at the very last moment.
Within a few moments of starting, Danny Cavanagh (lead guitar) was exhorting the audience to clap along, which would have been a bit of a mistake even if this hadn't been a typical Porcupine Tree audience, seemingly unresponsive yet fully attentive: they (we) hadn't yet warmed-up sufficiently that we wished to participate. Unfortunately, that established the relationship for the entire set. I hope the band understood their audience; Vincent didn't seem impressed and his statement that they'll be back next year "as headliner" seemed to have an edge.
It was a well-chosen 45-min set, showcasing the high-energy rock and 'menacing' intensity I particularly like in their music, yet with space for some of the gentler, melancholic material I, er, appreciate less.
Fragile Dreams is amongst my favourite Anathema songs, so was an excellent start.
A Simple Mistake is one of the three songs released via the band's website as a preview of the next album. I hadn't been overwhelmed by that studio arrangement, but it worked much better live, particularly the powerful second half.
'Closer' was the song which introduced me to Anathema, so it was particularly good to hear it the first (and certainly not last) time I've seen them live.
Without wishing to criticise, Lee Douglas's voice (or more generally, female voices like hers) isn't to my taste, and nor are the slower-paced Anathema songs on which she sings, so I wasn't overjoyed that she joined the band on stage for 'A Natural Disaster', a song which I've just noticed I hadn't even bothered to upload to my iPod. Played at concert volume, I was wincing by the end.
She stayed to sing backing vocals on 'Angels Walk Among Us', which was preferable, but I wasn't pleased when Vincent thanked her by saying she'll take a greater role in the next album.
Somehow I didn't realise until later that Deep had been played; it segued straight from the unfamiliar (to me) 'A Natural Disaster', so perhaps I confused it for part of the same song. No, I don't know how, either.
Flying is another that I hadn't particularly appreciated on the 'A Natural Disaster' album (my least-favourite of Anathema's post- doom-metal releases), but it worked well live.
An as-yet-unreleased track, Hindsight closed the set. I think it was fully-instrumental apart from a vocal sample from what sounded like an American self-motivation album, which somewhat detracted, in my opinion.
Both in terms of music and live production, it was clear that under normal circumstances (i.e. with the backing of a record label) Anathema are a headline act. After their set, it took a full 15 minutes to clear the stage of their monitors and equipment (seemingly assisted by Jamie (third Cavanagh brother and bass player) – not so typical of a headliner!) and they made good use of the lights (if with a little too much dry ice – Les Smith (keys) and Mick (drums) were almost invisible at times). For a support band, the sound was extraordinarily good, though not in the same league of clarity as Porcupine Tree. It was particularly noticeable that Anathema's richly-textured music came across well, in extreme contrast to Amplifier's muddy sound in April.
Some Porcupine Tree fans encountering Anathema for the first time have commented negatively about Vincent's 'out of tune' vocals and John Douglas' 'imprecise' drumming.
Firstly, Vincent's diction (not just accent) is strongly Liverpudlian, more so than, say, The Beatles, and the melancholic nature of the music demands a certain delivery which I think he fulfills well. If you want a polished, formally-trained crooner, you have the wrong band.
Secondly, there's more to musicianship than empty virtuosity, and I've never noticed a problem with John's drumming, whether on studio albums or live recordings. I couldn't judge for myself this time, as John had become a father earlier in the day, so the band was accompanied by Mick, a stand-in who certainly seemed familiar with the material.
As soon as Anathema left the stage, some people headed for the bar, but otherwise there was a general shuffling forward, eliminating gaps and dodging around those slow to join in. I ended up at least 10 m further forward, 6-8 m from the stage, dead-centre, with only one taller person in front to my left. Perfect; I had a great view throughout the main set, though Wes was slightly obscured. There wasn't much room to move, so it's lucky that those (very closely) around me weren't inclined to, and the half-hour wait before the main set, in a London Underground-like crush, was rendered bearable by watching the bands' techs clear and reset the stage.
Porcupine Tree's stage setup was identical to that in Preston eight months ago, contributing an odd familiarity. In fact, that was my overall impression of the concert: truly wonderful, and I enjoyed myself tremendously, but somehow it lacked the novelty and extra thrill I'd experienced in April merely from being in the presence of the band. That's not necessarily a disadvantage, as I was able to focus more on their performance and the music.
There were a few videos and lighting effects projected behind the band, but as usual I consciously ignored them (I attend concerts to see the band perform for real, live, in front of me, not to watch something prerecorded) so can't really comment on their content. I did get a dim impression that there were fewer Lasse Hoile videos than on previous tours; perhaps 5 of the 15 songs (indicated with asterices below), as opposed to 8 of 16 last time. The remaining songs were accompanied by more abstract, less attention-drawing lighting effects.
I'm pleased to say the audience (at least those in earshot and in my line of sight) were particularly still and attentive – some would wrongly say 'unresponsive', but there was plenty of appreciation at the appropriate times: between songs. I was aware of people around me taking the opportunities of quiet sections to exchange comments, but no-one near me was shouting or jumping around.
From my position 8-10 m from Steven Wilson (SW), the sound was excellent, with clear stereo effects and good balance on both quieter and 'full-on' material; perhaps the guitar separation wasn't perfect, meaning a few subtleties were only apparent because I was listening for them. However, as explained below, I moved to the extreme rear left corner of the hall during 'Trains' and noticed a general deterioration in sound quality (hardly surprising) and a distracting effect off the temporary back wall, which mightn't have optimum acoustics. As in April, the sound was loud but 'clean', and as I was walking back to the station my hearing was about as clear as when I'd entered the Academy, which makes a tremendous difference to one's appreciation of the music.
The basic logistics of SW being unable to switch guitars quickly enough and having too much to do in complex arrangements of (in April) fairly new material rather dictated the relative roles he and John Wesley played on the last tour: on several songs Wes played lead guitar and the electric solos whilst SW played the acoustic or rhythm guitar parts. Another reason was apparently that Wes improvises solos in his own style rather than following the album arrangements closely, adding novelty to live performances. I can certainly respect that reasoning, but I don't actually like it. I do appreciate Wes' playing on his own albums, but given a direct choice, I prefer SW's sound, and in general I dislike improvisation. Hence, I was very pleased that SW and Wes switched back this time, Wes returning to a more supporting role and SW taking more of the solos himself. I was only jarred out of my rapture twice by Wes solos which I didn't think quite worked.
The set featured fifteen songs and no instrumentals, though several of the chosen songs include extended instrumental sections. Six songs were from 2007, three each from 2002 & '05, and one each from 1995, '96 & '99. That's the balance I expect at Porcupine Tree concerts, emphasising the 2002-2007 albums with a few token representatives of the earlier back-catalogue. I was interested to hear that the band varied the setlist rather a lot on this tour; six songs were replaced for the following night's concert in Leeds.
There was no distinct intro track this time: the band walked on stage to the accompaniment of a few seconds from Lasse Hoile's 'Blank Planet' short film (as seen on the 'Fear of a Blank Planet' DVD-A) then launched straight into the song itself, Fear of a Blank Planet*. An excellent start to the album, and equally so in concert.
As I said in my review of the 'Nil Recurring' mini-album, I suspect What Happens Now? was derived from jamming and was in turn cherry-picked for details when composing the main 'Fear of a Blank Planet' album. Live, that relationship operated in reverse, the song neatly summarising the overall feel of the album without quite quoting from other tracks.
Incidentally, congratulations to SW for hitting the high notes live!
As usual, it was good to hear The Sound Of Muzak, but the 'as usual' part was a problem. Porcupine Tree only play a two-hour set, and there are other songs I'd prefer to hear (not necessarily 'better', just 'other'). Perhaps it's time to retire this tour regular.
Apart from that on the 'Deadwing' album, this was the best-yet arrangement of Lazarus*, one of my all-time favourite Porcupine Tree songs and one which SW's mother "actually likes". I'll have to hear an unofficial recording (which I happen to know was made, but which hasn't reached me yet) in order to pinpoint its attraction, but I think a greater role was given to the electric guitars, providing a less haunting but more immediately exciting feel. Wonderful.
As in April, Anesthetize* was sublime, but curiously it felt very long. With a running time of over seventeen minutes it is a long song, of course (a seventh of the entire concert – a seventh very well used), but this was the first time I really appreciated how long the high energy of the middle section is sustained and that the closing 'Water So Warm' section is itself fully 5½ minutes long. A marathon effort, both for the band and the audience.
Open Car isn't one of my favourite songs – the lead-in to the chorus and parts of the chorus itself are too 'generic pop-rock' for me – but it follows 'the beast' of 'Anesthetize' well. Sometimes one needs the undemanding pleasure of a little plain vanilla ice cream to appreciate a complex, heavy meal.
Dark Matter was a highlight of the concert for me. Perhaps because of its contrast with the heavier, more recent material and the fact I hadn't expected it (I almost mistook the intro for that of 'Russia On Ice', somehow), it stood out strongly, really holding my attention. I gained a new appreciation of the track, refreshing my interest in the whole 'Signify' album.
Blackest Eyes* has been a standard part of Porcupine Tree concerts since 2002, but unlike 'The Sound Of Muzak' it still feels fresh and I enjoyed it immensely. I fact, I think it's improved over the years, and prefer the vocal timings to those on the 'In Absentia' album.
This was the third rendition of Cheating the Polygraph that I'd heard. On the first occasion, when all the 'Fear of a Blank Planet' material had been unfamiliar, the then-unnamed 'Track 5' stood out as the weakest of the planned songs and I was glad it was dropped from the main album. When it reappeared on 'Nil Recurring', my immediate opinion was more favourable (apart from the overbearing drumming) but since September the slightly whiney vocals (not lyrics, vocals) have gradually dropped in my estimation. That impression was reinforced live, but the new arrangement highlighted something new to me: just how similar the heavier sections are to those of 'Anesthetize' and hence how, well, redundant. In short, this was probably my least favourite part of the set.
A Smart Kid had felt out-of-place in the April set, almost lacking in power compared to the 'Fear Of A Blank Planet' material, but not this time, either because the arrangement had been revised or because of the overall balance of tonight's setlist. It was particularly good to hear SW take the climactic solo himself, as I love the 'standard' version.
Though SW almost apologised for repeating parts of the April concert, the main set again finished with the final two tracks from 'Fear of a Blank Planet', Way Out Of Here* and Sleep Together. This tour is supposed to be promoting the album, which I particularly like, so I didn't exactly object. An excellent ending. Though they're approaching the end of a long tour and SW had said he was looking forward to a rest, I was impressed by the strength of his vocal delivery on 'Sleep Together'. His voice has certainly developed in recent years.
The band left the stage for a couple of minutes then returned for possibly the highlight of the concert for me: a ~9-minute version of 'The Sky Moves Sideways Phase 1' performed live in Manchester for the first time since 1999 and hence my first time ever, if we don't count unofficial recordings. At the time I thought SW performed the opening instrumental alone, the others having nothing to do (this was the only song of the concert during which Wes wasn't on-stage, presumably grabbing a Guinness), but in hindsight Richard must have been playing too (his contribution makes the song) and I doubt the percussion was prerecorded. The subsequent vocal section was electrifying, whilst the high-energy end was a reminder (as if that was needed) of how much I love the band's pre-2002 sound.
I quite like 'Trains' but I've never understood the level of fan adulation it attracts and as with 'The Sound Of Muzak', I wouldn't object to it being dropped from the live set for a while; somehow its familiarity meant it failed to fully hold my attention. The circumstances didn't help. As it was introduced, I received a strong impression that 'Trains' would be the final encore piece. Excellent – even though I had to leave at 22:55 to catch a train, it seemed I'd see the whole concert after all. It then occurred to me that that'd only work if I was already by the exit at the end of the song – I wouldn't be able to wait for ~1,700 people to filter out ahead of me. Hence, I was obliged to push through the crowd in the middle of the song (sorry, folks) then leave quickly (at precisely 22:55) as soon as the applause began and SW looked as if he was removing his guitar to finish.
Bad news: I've since discovered that there was another encore. Good news: it was 'Halo', one of the few Porcupine Tree songs I absolutely dislike and one I was actually glad to have missed – as the final encore at the concert in April, I'd thought it a disappointing way to end, and I much preferred to walk back to the station with 'Trains' in my immediate memory.
So, another wonderful concert (from both bands), and I can't wait for the next one. It's unclear when that'll be; 2008 is supposed to be a year off for Porcupine Tree and the only known releases are to be reissues and SW solo projects. However, SW did mention they'd be back late next year, which made little sense. There's certainly been no suggestion of new material to tour.
[Those wanting the review can stop reading now; the following bit is just for cyclists.]
Leaving Preston station at ~00:15, the ride home took longer than normal due to an annoying gusty headwind, reducing my average speed to 14.5 mph (23 km/h; 38 km/h max. speed) and meaning I wasn't home until ~02:00 (01:58, I think). In hindsight, that average isn't much lower than the more usual 16 mph (26 km/h) for this route and my bike computer says I was only moving for 1 hour 34', so Preston's numerous traffic lights must have been the main delay.
For my own future reference and anyone else considering cycling from Preston railway station to Moorlands, Lancaster, the precise(ish) distance is 22.75 miles (36.6 km) – 1.75 miles more than I'd thought, which explains why it's always felt like more than 21 miles! Two useful landmarks are the northernmost turn-off from the A6 to Garstang, at 12.1 miles and hence only slightly over 10 miles from Lancaster, and Junction 33 of the M6, at 16.6 miles – it's important to accept that one isn't 'nearly there' at that point, and over 5 miles remain ahead.
6 November, 2007
Music for the head
For their second successive album, Porcupine Tree have been awarded* Classic Rock magazine's 'Album Of The Year', er, award. Congratulations!
Considering the awards have only existed for three years and the band didn't release an album in 2006, that's impressive.
*: "... with an eloquent acceptance speech which included the words 'progressive rock' which I [Fish] never thought that I would hear him speak!".
2 October, 2007
Review: 'Nil Recurring' (Porcupine Tree, 2007)
In mid-September, Porcupine Tree released a 29-minute CD 'EP' of additional material derived from the 'Fear of a Blank Planet' sessions, with a title arguably better than that earlier album: 'Nil Recurring'.
It's important to note that though these tracks arose alongside the 'Fear of a Blank Planet' songs, they aren't outtakes rejected because they were in any way inferior, it's just that they didn't contribute to the very specific concept of that album.
To repeat: each Porcupine Tree album is a coherent composition, to be heard in order, not merely a bunch of songs. 'Fear of a Blank Planet' can be considered as one 51-minute piece in six sections, and there's no room for tangential bonus tracks.
Hence, as the band said at the official site, 'Nil Recurring' could be considered as the second Porcupine Tree album of 2007, forming an independent, standalone composition, not merely as an addendum to the 'main' album.
This material is therefore additional to the earlier release, with one possible exception. Featuring a key line from 'Anesthetize' (actually the most direct quote from 'Lunar Park', the Brett Easton Ellis novel which inspired the whole concept) plus the title and chorus of 'Sentimental', 'Normal' might be considered an alternative take on some of the material already heard on 'Fear of a Blank Planet'; had this song been used then, it could only have been instead of 'Sentimental' (and I wouldn't have wanted that to be dropped!).
Two pieces, 'Nil Recurring' and 'Cheating The Polygraph', were recorded at the same time as the 'Fear of a Blank Planet' tracks, between October and December 2006. John Wesley isn't a member of the studio band, so doesn't play on the EP, but the guitars were produced (and recorded?) at Wes' studio in Florida, as SW particularly likes the setup.
In contrast, these renditions of 'Normal' and 'What Happens Now?' were recorded more recently, in July 2007 after the first full round of touring 'Fear of a Blank Planet' across Europe and N.America.
The title track is a splendidly-complex instrumental (not that complexity is automatically good). I do like it, but I don't find it particularly distinctive; randomly shuffled amongst the other post-2002 instrumentals, I'm not confident I could distinguish it. Not a problem, as I like them too.
'Normal' is by far my favourite track on the EP, at least comparable to anything on the full album. It features acoustic guitar sections almost reminiscent of Jethro Tull, the best Porcupine Tree overlapping vocal harmonies since 2002, a recurring Eastern-influenced theme like that of 'Sleep Together', a 'heavy' guitar interlude and even a shiny new kitchen sink. Perhaps not the latter – the song really does work, despite this description implying it's a mess of conflicting elements.
Even as recently as the end of 2006, 'Cheating the Polygraph' was considered for inclusion in 'Fear of a Blank Planet': it was the then-untitled 'Track 5' played live on the 'Arriving Somewhere...' tour. Even before it was known that it'd be omitted from the album, concertgoers had been saying that it didn't seem to fit; evidently the band agreed. I recall that working version as one of the less impressive preview pieces, particularly an OTT guitar solo which only seemed to excite a couple of teenagers standing near me.
The first time I heard the mini-album, I had major doubts about this track, as the drum rhythms seemed annoyingly mismatched with the verse lyrics (Gavin Harrison shares writing credits with SW). I still think they're far too busy, but the other elements are strong enough. That 'guitar frenzy' I'd criticised last year seems to have been tamed.
'What Happens Now?' is the longest song on the EP, with a running time of 8:23, but there are no lyrics after 3:07, so it's more of an instrumental, really. Like the other instrumental, 'Nil Recurring', writing credits are shared by the whole band; I could speculate that it was derived from initial 'jamming', then cherrypicked for ideas which were developed on the main album, as fragments of 'What Happens Now?' have an oddly familiar feel.
The initial release of 'Nil Recurring' has been on the band's own 'Transmission' label, solely available by preorder from the Porcupine Tree webstore at Burning Shed, as a limited edition in a digipack. Three thousand were allocated to web sales, with a further 2,000 held back for the merchandise stall at concerts on the forthcoming tours of N.America and Europe. However, the first batch sold-out within a week, so some of the tour stock was offered via Burning Shed. That too sold out overnight, so yet more were allocated to mail-order. It's unclear how that'll affect tour merchandise, and whether the 'limited edition' has been repressed (Burning Shed apparently say not), to the annoyance of collectors who wanted it to be limited.
In any case, there was never an intention to limit availability of the music, just the digipack. As planned from the outset, a retail edition of the EP, in a jewel case, will be released in the new year by Snapper. The music is now also available for download from Burning Shed in both .mp3 and lossless .flac formats.
It's also worth mentioning that all four 'Nil Recurring' tracks appear on the limited edition 'Fear of a Blank Planet' double LP and in 5.1 surround sound on the (not limited) 'Fear of a Blank Planet' DVD-A, due out this week.
Therefore, unless you're a packaging collector, please do not pay premium eBay prices for the mini-album, and there is no excuse for accessing an illicit torrent.
I'm certainly looking forward to hearing at least some of these tracks live in December!
[Update 24/11/07: The jewel case edition of the EP will be released on 18 February, 2008. Surprisingly, it won't be released by Snapper, but by the metal-orientated Peaceville Records.]
[Update 24/02/08: The 'mainstream' edition of the mini-album has entered the BBC 'Top 30 Independent Label Albums' chart at no.8. Not bad considering the majority of hardcore fans will have already bought the digipack edition.]
[Update 02/03/08: It dropped to no.24 in its second week, but I'm surprised it charted at all, never mind still being there for a second week!]
7 August, 2007
New P-Tree: Nil Recurring EP and 'FoaBP' DVD-A
Porcupine Tree are to release a ~30-minute EP/mini-album on CD in October.
[Update 02/10/07: Reviewed here.]
Precise availability (presumably only via the band's own webstore) will be revealed soon, but the title, 'Nil Recurring', is known, as is the provisional release date, 1 October, and the tracklist:
Cheating The Polygraph (7.10)
Nil Recurring (6.08)
What Happens Now? (8.23)
The music is performed by the normal studio band (i.e. without John Wesley), though 'What Happens Now?'
features a guest appearence by Ben Coleman on electric violin and a certain Robert Fripp plays guitar on the title track.
All four tracks were written during the 'Fear of a Blank Planet' sessions in 2006, but these versions of 'Normal' and 'What Happens Now?' were recorded within the last month, after the recent N.American tour. I, and everyone else who attended concerts on the 'Arriving Somewhere...' tour in late 2006 have already heard 'Cheating the Polygraph', as that's the then-untitled 'Track 5' which was previewed alongside the rest of the 'Fear of a Blank Planet' material but subsequently omitted from the album itself.
Porcupine Tree albums have always been intended to be heard as continuous compositions in the predetermined order, rather than merely as collections of unrelated tracks each to be considered in isolation. The sequencing has always mattered, and in some cases bonus tracks have been released on additional CDs to completely distinguish them from the core content on 'Disc 1'. Hence, it's particularly interesting that 'Cheating The Polygraph' appears between 'My Ashes' and 'Anesthetize' on the LP (also announced today and also to be released in October) i.e. within the composition, not appended as an unrelated bonus.
There was a slight concern that if this and the new Bass Communion album, 'Pacific Codex' are scheduled for release at the end of September/start of October, maybe the 'Fear of a Blank Planet' DVD-A (expected to be out in September too, back in April) would be postponed. That delay seemed particularly credible if the DVD-A is to be the ostensible focus of the next tour, which begins in October. Thankfully, I was wrong, and the release date is confirmed as 1 October.
The release of four outtakes as a CD seemed to leave no exclusive content for the DVD-A (which was a selling point of the 'In Absentia' and 'Deadwing' DVD-As), as there's no suggestion that Porcupine Tree have even more unreleased material left over from the 'FoaBP' sessions.
My immediate thought was that the exclusive element would be to make a 5.1 surround sound mix of these tracks solely available on the DVD-A. A subsequent announcement proved that to be partially correct, as there will indeed be no further new music on the DVD-A, beyond the known four tracks. However, it will also include a short introductory film by Lasse Hoile and the video of the title track. There's been a hint of further, unannounced content, too.
In a sense, this is an odd but welcome arrangement. Both packages offer advantages, but they're almost mutually exclusive. Those of us with little interest in high-resolution or surround sound, or in video material, can obtain the core content – the four new tracks – on the EP. However, I see no rational reason for purchasers of the DVD-A to also buy the EP; the former contains the entire contents of the latter in both 5.1 surround sound and CD-quality stereo. I'm certainly not complaining, but it'd seem to be in the band's & label's interests to avoid such redundancy, inducing people to buy both.
[Update 14/08/07: The issue in the foregoing paragraph has been clarified... sort of.
The DVD-A will not contain a proper stereo mix of the four bonus tracks; that'll only be on the EP. However, there will be downmixed stereo version, "so stereo users will get a taster of what is to come". I don't really understand the distinction.]
7 August, 2007
Since you asked...
At the time of writing, Burning Shed have just started selling merchandise from Porcupine Tree's 'Fear of a Blank Planet' tour, including two different T-shirts and one long-sleeved shirt.
However, not all are available in the full range of sizes, which implies that this is the usual one-off sale of stock left over from the tour rather than a permanent addition to Burning Shed's range.
I'd like to be wrong, but just in case, don't wait too long!
31 May, 2007
The thrill of the chase
In 1996, Steven Wilson expressed his negative reaction to the pervasiveness of the internet in Porcupine Tree's 'Every Home Is Wired'. More recently, particularly with the release of the 'Fear of a Blank Planet' album, he's been similarly critical of the instant gratification afforded by mp3 players.
At the unofficial Porcupine Tree Forum, one writer has a slightly different, very credible, interpretation:
I don't think he was (or is) against the Internet, or indeed people who waste away their lives on it. Nor do I think he's against iPods.
It's a lament, the mourning of the loss of an experience that he (we) enjoyed - how we'd have to read obscure fanzines, seek out unusual specialist record stores and mail order dealers, scour through thousands of used albums looking for those chance rare finds, excitedly travel home clutching our new-found treasures, and listen to them and digest everything with the sort of passion that maybe weeks, months years of searching for the music results in.
Now its Google, One-Click, answer door 24 hours later, rip to iPod, skip, skip, hey cool, next.
SW is known to be an enthusiastic collector who appreciates the process of obtaining music as well as (I'm not suggesting as much
as) the music itself. However, I've never understood that myself, and thoroughly welcome the 'loss of experience' described.
Apart from the last sentence, of course. Ready availability of music doesn't necessarily diminish or trivialise it, and I can enjoy a CD fom Amazon just as much as one which has been annoyingly difficult to obtain.
More so, in some cases – some music is rightfully obscure.
I think this overlaps with the urge for exclusivity: to be a fan of a band no-one else knows, or to have an album no-one else owns; to be able to self-affirm that 'I'm special, me'. Kind of childish, really.
There's also something almost religious about the 'questing' urge and the thought that anything worthwhile needs to hard-won. And I'm atheist.
Seriously; there's more to atheism than being certain there's no 'higher being'; it's a world-view, with a distinct value-system independently developed by each individual. To me, it's not about living virtuously or deserving anything, and it's about the content of an album, not the means by which it was obtained.
26 April, 2007
Review: Porcupine Tree, 53 Degrees, Preston, 20 April, 2007 (w. Amplifier)
One of my favourite bands, performing my 'album of the year' (to date) live, within cycling distance (well, 37 km) of my home? Do you think I could have missed that?
[Looking for the album review?]
Queuing outside the venue, the audience seemed older and more predominantly male than usual, wearing a disconcerting number of retro 'prog' T-shirts. However, once inside, the hall soon filled with a wider range of people displaying preferable affiliations.
The doors opened on time at 19:30, and I went straight to the merchandise stand. I needn't have rushed, as Ade (Porcupine Tree drum tech & stallholder) seemed to have learned from last September, when tour T-shirts completely sold out within eight minutes, and there was plenty of stock. If anyone's interested, I bought the new tour T-shirt featuring a curiously low-res version of the 'Fear of a Blank Planet' cover image and a long sleeve shirt featuring the silhouette of an open hand (in the 'FoaBP' special edition's booklet, it's the image opposite the 'Anesthetize' part 3 ('Water so warm...') lyrics). Porcupine Tree are really grasping marketing opportunities at last, and Ade dropped a promotional postcard into the 'FoaBP' carrier bag.
Incidentally, don't wait to buy your copy of the new album at a concert, as neither the special edition of 'Fear of a Blank Planet' nor even the standard retail edition is being sold by the merchandise stall. This is because the band and label wish to maximise initial sales via mainstream, chart-registered retailers.
In the remaining ~20 minutes before the concert began, it was great to meet Simon 'Carbon Nation' Clarke in person, and meet ex-Lancastrian Adam again, but putting faces to online identities is always difficult, and two others vanished into the crowd before I registered that I recognised them from photos.
The venue was smaller than I'd expected; more of a club with a bar area and dance floor than solely a concert hall. I was told the capacity was around 1,200, and I don't think it completely filled, so the one-off move from the Manchester Academy (capacity 1,700-1,800) may have deterred some.
One advantage was that the room was on two levels, offering people at the back a better view than at the one-level Academy. That also seemed to spread the crowd slightly, and I easily found myself only seven 'rows' back from the stage by the time Porcupine Tree came on (I usually stand well back, 15-20 'rows' away, near the mixing desk to avoid the crowd and appreciate optimum sound).
For those planning to visit in future, the 53° is a 10-15 min walk from Fishergate (Preston's main shopping street) and the railway station, and there's a car park right by the venue.
I've mentioned before that I don't like the custom of including support bands in concerts, but for once Porcupine Tree were accompanied by a band I already like, Amplifier. In fact, after OSI's 'Office of Strategic Influence', 'Amplifier' was probably my favourite album of 2003 (though I didn't discover it until late 2004), markedly ahead of Porcupine Tree's 'In Absentia'.
It made a change to be very familiar with the support band's music, though I admit I couldn't name the opening instrumental until playing 'Insider' again this morning. Only two songs were from that second album, with the remainder being obvious choices from the eponymous debut album. Amusingly, I was able to predict which they'd be, in almost exactly the right order:
So far as I could tell, the playing was excellent, remaining quite close to the studio arrangements, if abbreviated. So far as I could tell. Unfortunately, the sound quality was... sub-optimal. Amplifer's music incorporates considerable controlled feedback, but the further distortion introduced by the band's amps and mixing desk (they didn't use Porcupine Tree's) resulted in rather muddy and out-of-balance sound. At a few moments I was appreciating the memory of the album versions, as the live renditions were indistinct. I suspect those less familiar with how the music should sound received a poor first impression. That's a pity, and I recommend giving them a second chance.
Amplifier played from 20:00 for forty minutes, so there was a twenty-minute interval before Porcupine Tree were expected. Some headed for the bar, but I took the opportunity to edge forward a little, towards the middle of the stage. I'd provided a vague description of myself at the unofficial Porcupine Tree forum, which was adequate for one of my new neighbours to recognise me – hi, Steve (who introduced me to his friend as 'a man from the Internet', as if I'd just downloaded to the venue).
The lights dimmed at 21:05, but it was a further five minutes before the band came on, causing me slight anxiety about abbreviating the set to meet a 23:00 curfew. I needn't have worried; the full set was played.
The sound was excellent – perhaps the best I've heard at a concert. It was loud, but extremely clear. Last September's mix had been far too bass-rich, which battered the crowd in a way which was interesting in itself (I thought the 'wall of industrial noise' effect was great) but which distorted the music. This time, every element was crystal-clear without compromising raw power, allowing the effective use of stereo, er, effects in places. Well done. It makes a tremendous difference to be able to appreciate the subtleties of the final song with as clear hearing as during the first. This may be the first rock concert I've left without my ears ringing.
I don't particularly like back-projected videos at concerts; I don't want someone else's interpretation of the music to distract from my own enjoyment, and the whole point of attending is to see the band perform for real, live, in front of me, not to watch something pre-recorded. Perhaps unfortunately, then, eight (indicated with asterices, below) of the sixteen pieces played had video accompaniment.
Two, from 'In Absentia', used the projections from that tour: abstract assemblages of Lasse Hoile images which were atmospheric without attempting to directly illustrate the lyrical content. Two more, from 'Deadwing', were similarly fairly abstract animations (both are provided for home-viewing on the 'Arriving Somewhere...' DVD). All were easy to ignore.
That leaves four new projections accompanying songs from 'Fear of a Blank Planet'. These were rather different, being more like 'proper' music videos for broadcast than mere concert accompaniments. Stylistically similar to the album booklet artwork and still images on the special edition DVD, they seemed to be relevant to the lyrical content, without offering an outright narrative. In a way, I welcomed them as, if they genuinely illustrate the meanings intended by Steven Wilson (SW), they helped me understand the songs. However, I wasn't there to watch TV, so kept my attention on the band as much as I was able.
Aside from the entire new album, Porcupine Tree played one song from 'Signify' (1996), two (two of my all-time favourite Porcupine Tree songs, in fact) from 'Stupid Dream' (1999), one from 'Lightbulb Sun' (2000), three from 'In Absentia' (2002) and three from 'Deadwing' (2005).
That's not quite what I'd expected; recent tours have featured new material, a significant amount from the post-2002 albums, and very little from the older back catalogue. Last September, they played the new material, eight 2002-2005 songs and only one from 1993-2000; I'd expected much the same again, so was very pleasantly surprised (when I read Wednesday's setlist – I didn't arrive at this concert 'cold'). Apart from the final encore, I wouldn't have changed anything.
As usual for a Porcupine Tree concert, the audience were still and attentive – some might say static. A few tried headbanging to complex rhythms, which looked foolish, but otherwise movement was limited to a little head-nodding and foot-tapping. In writing, that sounds awfully sedate, but somehow it wasn't, and I wouldn't have wanted it otherwise – it's a concert, not a party – and there's no question that the audience were fully appreciative. One group behind me was rather... chatty, but beyond being aware of them, I wasn't particularly distracted.
I don't think I'd previously appreciated the full extent of Richard Barbieri's role in live performances. He played keyboards, of course, and his soundscapes both underpinned and rounded-out the overall sound, but there were moments when I realised neither Gavin nor Colin Edwin were playing at all. Conversely, particularly during heavier sections of the new material, SW and John Wesley (Wes) were effectively playing rhythm beneath Richard's lead.
I've said before that I think Gavin Harrison's drumming has been too high in the mix of studio recordings since he joined the band in 2002, so I'd better clarify something I realised during the concert. It's the snares which have been too dominant in the mix of songs from 'In Absentia' and 'Deadwing', but I really appreciated the contribution his bass drum made in propelling the rhythm tonight. I'm no musician, so apologise if I'm misusing the terminology; I mean the 'harsher', 'bright'-sounding percussion has been too clear in the past, whereas I'd overlooked his 'deeper'-sounding drumming.
Though there were times when he had nothing to do, I was struck by how comfortable Wes looked on stage – he's not a stereotypical guitar hero, but in his quiet way, he's a consummate pro.
So; the songs themselves:
This pre-recorded piece was only played briefly as the band came on stage rather than as an extended lead-in beforehand. As such, my mind was elsewhere and I didn't give it much attention; I initially thought it was familiar, perhaps 'Revenant', but I've since checked, and it was an unnamed ambient piece.
Fear Of A Blank Planet*
I don't remember, and haven't heard an unofficial recording yet, but I presume this was the then-unnamed piece which opened concerts on the preview tour last year. Somehow it didn't have the same initial kick of raw power as I recalled, which made me wonder whether I'd view all of the 'Fear of a Blank Planet' material so differently now it's more familiar. I still enjoyed it, of course, and was uncontrollably grinning within moments.
The back-projected video had briefly been shown on the band's MySpace site, but had been temporarily withdrawn following the Virginia Tech murders last week. Now I've seen it, I can certainly understand why, as children with handguns, some shown in a school environment, was a little too close to truth.
It was wonderful to hear this live, not least because I hadn't attended any concerts on the 2000 tour, when it was last performed. Unexpectedly (by me), SW played a rather (visually) attractive acoustic guitar whilst Wes played the electric parts, which meant he took the solo. That was excellent: extended, and distinctly his own rather than a clone of SW's style.
I think this was the first time SW spoke, greeting the crowd and saying that they'd play the whole new album interspersed by songs from the back catalogue "that we haven't played before" [pause; shocked exchange of glances between Steve & I ] "...at least not with this lineup." [*******!]
Again, I was surprised by Wes' central role in the live rendition: he sang the entire choruses, rather than simply backing SW. I'm not sure why. I don't think it added anything special, and it was slightly distracting to hear material I'm still assimilating in his accent and higher vocal register.
This video depicted fragmentary images of young childhood, which suggested to me that the song could be about a member of the 'blank generation' recalling happy, more innocent earlier life.
SW introduced 'Anesthetize' by saying it's "a pretty hard one to play though not the hardest one on the record to play; more of that later". I thought that meant he'd later state which is most difficult, but he didn't.
Wow. I'd had some doubts about this song on the album, but suddenly I really 'got' it – it was sublime, especially the middle section. My highlight of an already wonderful evening.
The Alex Lifeson solo in the first section was played by Wes. I'm afraid the original was better; Wes' version seemed to lack direction.
Hearing it live reinforced my impression that this is really two distinct songs artificially forced together. The end of the second section felt like the natural end of the song, and received corresponding applause (which I joined, as it was deserved!), whereas applause after the third section felt like a formality.
Not my favourite track, from not my favourite album, but it worked very well in the live setting, and was a good choice after an extended period of music unfamiliar to anyone who didn't already have the new album.
Perhaps foolishly, I hadn't realised that the first third of the song is a duet between SW and Richard Barbieri. Until the second verse, the drums were played from tape (reproducing the filtered sound of the studio version), but I'm not sure why the bass was pre-recorded too – it's not as if Colin Edwin was doing something else at the time.
Drown With Me
SW introduced this by explaining the band had recorded but left certain songs off albums, then regretted doing so. The example he cited was 'Stars Die' which, for a fraction of a second, implied they were about to play it. However, that's practically impossible (too many layered vocals) and he went on to announce this b-side from the 'In Absentia' sessions. I'd hoped and expected it to be 'Half-Light', an outtake from 'Deadwing' which had been in the Glasgow set two nights ago, but 'Drown With Me' was okay too.
Like 'Stars Die', the studio version of 'Drown With Me' makes extensive use of overlapping vocals which couldn't be reproduced live. However, the live band does have two vocalists and backing tapes could be made, so it was surprising to hear the whole effect stripped away; apart from during the title phrase itself, I don't think SW and Wes sang together even once. Unfamiliarity with this version may have affected my judgement, but I'm afraid those sections just sounded clumsy and unfinished.
The video depicted an older teenager in cafés, on public transport, etc., which I interpreted as being about a member of the 'blank generation' growing up, entering the mundane adult life of work & commuting and being unable to engage with that either.
I must have been enjoying myself – it's not often that I feel an urge to (discreetly) sing along in public.
For several seconds, I didn't recognise this at all. It's distinctly different to the studio and 1997 live versions, with an unfamiliar drum rhythm. I'm looking forward to hearing it again on an unauthorised recording I happen to know was made, as I didn't really take it in at the time. I liked it, anyway.
One of the things I appreciate about Porcupine Tree is that they don't rest on their back catalogue, but I'd very much like to hear more mid-90s songs reinterpreted in this way.
A Smart Kid
I can't hear this song too often, so it almost goes without saying that I enjoyed it. However, it wasn't the highlight I'd expected it to be. Relative to the overall feel of the concert, it somewhat lacked power, and the normally stunning climactic guitar solo was slightly overshadowed by earlier pieces. It pains me to say it about one of my all-time favourites, but I think other songs could have been better choices within this setlist.
Way Out Of Here*
SW introduced this by saying the final two songs on the album are about escape.
I suspect this was the one they've been struggling to play live. Again, I'm no musician, and the playing seemed flawless to me, yet at one point (I think it was during this song), Richard and Colin abruptly looked at Gavin and grinned, so they must have spotted something I missed.
As soon as I saw the accompanying video, which depicts an attractive goth girl in a railway yard, I thought of a teenage member of the unofficial Porcupine Tree forum who was female, gothy and killed by a train in 2005. I've since discovered it was no coincidence.
I must have been overwhelmed by this point, as I don't recall anything specific about it!
With that, the band left the stage for a couple of minutes, long enough for the road crew to remove SW's keyboard, then returned for the encore:
This has been a staple of concerts since at least 1997 (yes, well before the release of 'Stupid Dream'), so I'd expected it to have been retired by now. Not that I'm complaining – it's always been my favourite Porcupine Tree song, so I was enraptured to hear it. That said, its stylistic difference to the current material didn't quite fit the mood of the evening (perhaps that's why it was in the encore rather than the main set) and, at least this time, I preferred 'Anesthetize'.
Mother & Child Divided*
Maybe I was tired, but this didn't excite me as much as it might; the same sort of material had already been covered stunningly in the main set, so this instrumental felt superfluous. I'm not really complaining; I just mean it was the least memorable part of the evening.
Throughout the concert I'd been hearing familiar songs afresh and gaining a new appreciation, so I genuinely approached this with an open mind. However, it's no use; even with the new arrangement, I simply don't like this shallow, populist song. It's a pity that I couldn't fully appreciate the last opportunity of the evening to be a few metres from my musical 'heroes', as I'd already emotionally disengaged.
And that was it, until my next Porcupine Tree concert. I can't adequately express how much I enjoyed this one.
I'm afraid this review reveals the major deficiencies in my supposed writing ability. I have no problem being analytical and commenting on specific points, but I can't adequately convey my emotional responses to the concert: the excitement of being a few metres from the band (I certainly can't rationalise that), the exhilaration of being immersed in wonderful music played at high-volume,... I don't know; just the sheer ecstasy of the whole experience. I can't describe it, but it's the nearest an atheist can get to a nonexistent heaven (in public, anyway).
I couldn't have hoped for a better setlist, but a 'source close to the band' told me that the band rehearsed three hours of material before the tour – each night's set is about two hours long, so expect some variety as the tour proceeds. In fact, the cue sheets by the mixing & lighting desks suggested 'Trains' had been a possibility this evening.
I'm used to attending concerts in Manchester and Liverpool, so it was a pleasant change to not encounter ticket touts outside the venue beforehand nor bootleg T-shirt sellers afterwards. However, a couple of Roadrunner Records/Porcupine Tree street team members were present, distributing stickers to the departing audience. Let's hope they secured a few converts.
26 April, 2007
The clothes are all black
One of the more common searches delivering visitors to the Ministry this week has been 'porcupine tree shirts' (or similar). That's one enquiry I can answer, though obviously my information isn't official.
Porcupine Tree t-shirts, long-sleeve shirts and 'girlie' shirts are available from the merchandise stall at concerts.
At the end of each tour, leftover shirts are made available via the band's webstore, only so long as the existing stock lasts.
There is no permanently-available source of official Porcupine Tree t-shirts.
Whether one thinks that's sensible marketing is an entirely different matter....
[Update 01/08/07: It's reported that the band are considering significant, and imminent, expansion in the range of merchandise available online, including re-prints of 'classic' shirts such as 'Deadwing', 'In Absentia' and 'Signify'.]
[Update 07/08/07: See here. Quick!]
21 April, 2007
Review: 'Fear of a Blank Planet' (Porcupine Tree, 2007)
Porcupine Tree's much-anticipated ninth studio album was released on 16 April, so I suppose I ought to stop enjoying it long enough to write a review.
[Looking for the concert review?]
Actually, I haven't been playing it back-to-back all week (only nearly...). At a little under 51 minutes, it feels short, but it's intense; as soon as I'd finished hearing it for the first time, I wanted a rest, and didn't immediately start again as I might normally.
I could nit-pick, as there were a few tiny details I didn't particularly like, but they were only details and overwhelmingly this is exactly what I wanted from Porcupine Tree: intelligent hard rock with an immediacy which pulled me in from the start, but also a depth that can only develop as I enjoy it repeatedly. There's nothing at all like the execrable 'Shallow' on this album, and the whole composition exhibits a maturity I thought lacking last time.
I want to stress that: apart from minor details, I liked the entire album, from the very first time I heard it. Quite a starting point, which exceeds the patchy 'In Absentia' and 'Deadwing'. Those albums contain some of my favourite Porcupine Tree songs but also almost all of my least favourites, and both took a while to appreciate. Particularly on 'Deadwing', I thought certain songs were 'pop rock' with no greater depth than crowd-pleasing 'fun': "only rock'n'roll" – and I don't like that. 'Fear of a Blank Planet' goes further.
As I said in my review of the preview material at the 'Arriving Somewhere...' concert in Manchester last September, my impression was that this would be the 'heaviest' Porcupine Tree album yet; not so much 'metal' as 'relentless industrial wall of noise'. That seems to have been moderated somewhat, and the studio album isn't so much of an 'in yer face' aural assault.
I think I like that. There's still enough full-on material to satisfy fans of 'In Absentia' and 'Deadwing', and where it's 'heavy', it may be more intensely 'heavy' than ever, but there's also a return to the textured atmospherics of earlier albums. In its initial 'punch', 'Fear of a Blank Planet' may seem like a 'heavy' album, but in hindsight it's not, really. I couldn't offer a precise breakdown of the relative proportions of 'heavy' and 'not heavy' material, but it may be something like 1:3-1:4. The 'heavy' aspect merely grabs disproportionate attention, unsurprisingly.
The album's lyrical content relates to teenage disengagement from wider society. Great; good for them. I'm all for the breakdown of traditional family-orientated collectivism in favour of self-motivated secular individualism.
Actually, that's not what's meant: it's about the 'blank generation': terminally bored 'hoodies' who disengage from the outside world altogether, retreating into an empty, instant-gratification cycle of computer games, prescription drugs and zombified mall wandering. Without wishing to convey a 'message', SW apparently seeks to draw attention to the tendency to live vicariously through an ever-widening range of impersonal technology – mass-media, the internet and gadgets.
That subject is explored most transparently in the title song, but the specific meaning of subsequent songs' lyrics eludes me at present. That doesn't particularly worry me at this stage; frankly, I don't really listen to Porcupine Tree for the lyrics. In general, I get more enjoyment from the vocal rhythms than the words of a new album, and more from the images conveyed by individual lines than from any overall themes, which I might appreciate more as I become familiar with an album.
The topic was apparently inspired by Brett Easton Ellis' novel 'Lunar Park', but I haven't read that myself (yet) and the synopsis I have seen didn't reveal an apparent similarity.
I noticed in a Marillion forum that fans of that band consider this album rather 'cold', but how else could one treat the subject of emotional vacancy? I find this more compelling that wallowing in outpourings of melancholy.
I do have one criticism of the album, but it's of the personnel involved, not the creative content itself, so is relatively unimportant.
The album includes guest appearences from Alex Lifeson and Robert Fripp from Rush and King Crimson respectively, if not respectfully – I'm not an admirer, and featuring what music critics and potential album purchasers could regard as 'prog dinosaurs' was needlessly dangerous. I didn't exactly welcome the announcement that they'd be participating.
Even knowing which guitar solo was provided by Lifeson, I didn't regard it as noteworthy; SW could easily have composed something himself and denied lazy journalists the opportunity to dismissively liken Porcupine Tree to retro 'prog'... stuff. Fripp's contribution on 'Way Out of Here' was pleasant enough but again, not distinctive, and nothing SW couldn't have generated himself.
So why have guest appearences by 'name' musicians only of interest to old-time 'prog' fans, which have the very real potential to alienate more mainstream listeners and critics? It's a bad idea in terms of mass-market credibility, which succeeded musically only because the guests' contributions were unobtrusive to the point of being anonymous. I'd call that a pointless gimmick.
I don't have anything significant to say about every song. There's limited value in my repeatedly stating 'I like this one', and I'm not a musician/musicologist who could comment on technical issues, so I'll just offer a few specific notes. Let's take it as read that I think they're all great!
Fear of a Blank Planet
If any track is reminiscent of the 'Deadwing' album, it's 'Fear of a Blank Planet' itself. However, it's not merely an outtake or continuation, rapidly developing from a (maybe deliberately) familiar feel to exhibit greater depth.
As I said, I don't really understand the lyrics of specific songs yet, but if the video accompanying this song at concerts is an indication, it seems to be about the protagonist wistfully recalling the innocent idyll of early childhood: "life's all ****ed up now; I wish I'd appreciated it more then." Maybe.
This has a particularly rich, layered soundscape, so it's not entirely surprising that Richard Barbieri shares joint writer's credit with SW. I'm not especially keen on lavish orchestral strings in rock music. That's not a criticism, merely my preference, and at least they're real, having been played by the London Session Orchestra.
This is the shortest track, 5:07 long, but actually ends at 4:36, the remaining 30 seconds effectively being an intro to 'Anesthetize'. The track division could have been located differently, but I think the right decision was made.
Yes, the title uses the US spelling, for some weird reason.
Surprisingly, this near- 18-minute compound song, affectionately known as 'The Beast' by those attending last year's preview tour, was my initial least favourite, though that impression was only temporary and relative ('less wonderful' is hardly savage criticism). This was partly because it seemed too repetitive, even rambling, in places, partly because the compilation of three distinct sections seemed somewhat artificial, and partly because I'd had very high expectations.
The initial impression I received in September, and which I unquestioningly assimilated, was that 'The Beast' 'blows away' 'Arriving Somewhere But Not Here' i.e. that I drastically preferred the highlight of 'Fear Of A Blank Planet' to the highlight of 'Deadwing'. Having heard the finished version, I'm less sure, but why would I? They're very different songs and it's not a competition. I like them both.
No matter how many times I hear it, I'm still convinced 'Anesthetize' is really two distinct songs forced together by a cross-fade and linking 'click track'. One is 12 minutes long in two different but complementary parts and, especially after hearing it live, is by far my favourite part of the album. The second is 4½ minutes long, and is fine, but seems musically unrelated to the first (apart from keyboards reminiscent of Pink Floyd's 'Echoes'). Ultimately, it doesn't make a difference if two separate songs happen to be indexed as one, especially as the album is intended to be heard as a coherent composition in the sequence provided, not a bunch of unrelated songs to be heard in isolation. I just wonder why it was done.
Again, if the back-projected video at concerts is an indication of SW's intended meaning, the lyrics seem to be about a member of the 'blank generation' growing up and trying to re-enter the establishment world of employment, commuting, and mundane adult life – and finding herself psychologically unable to do so. Again: maybe.
It's been noticed (and acknowledged by SW) that the riff at 3:52 and thereafter is the same as in live fan-favourite 'Trains', merely transposed to different chords. Now it's been pointed out, I hear it too, but I'm not entirely sure why it'd be an intentional back-reference, even though the first line of the next song, 'Way Out of Here' happens to be "Out at the train tracks...".
Way Out of Here
Er... 'I like this one'. Well, I do, even if I don't have anything to say about it here.
Okay: SW wrote all the lyrics on the album and all the music apart from 'My Ashes' and this song, which is credited as a collective band effort. Unlike 'My Ashes', I wouldn't have known by listening.
Some have said this is the furthest from anything Porcupine Tree have done before, even a hint of a major change in direction on future albums (as if that sort of thing is so planned). I don't see it myself. Though swirling orchestral strings provide a 'Middle Eastern' feel slightly reminiscent of ELO or Led Zeppelin's 'Kashmir', otherwise this is pure Porcupine Tree. It has quite a laid-back pace, but carries a brooding intensity, as if it could explode at any moment.
I could have done without the 'surprise' drumroll at the very end of the song and hence the album. It didn't seem to serve any purpose, and I'd have preferred it to end with the foregoing gentle fade, retaining rather than releasing the tension in the track.
Is it coincidental that much like 'Stop Swimming', the closing track of 'Stupid Dream', the lyrics of 'Sleep Together' could be readily interpreted as being about suicide?
As always, the album production was excellent, though for the first time, it was credited to the whole band rather than SW alone. This may explain two key differences to the foregoing two albums.
Since he joined the band, I've thought Gavin Harrison's drumming to be far too obtrusive on studio recordings, being much too dominant in the overall mix. This time, I wasn't aware of that even once.
Conversely, I was pleased that Richard Barbieri's keyboards & effects were more apparent. The combination of a driving guitar lead underpinned by a rich keyboards soundscape was what drew me to Porcupine Tree in the first place, so I'd been slightly disappointed by the (relative!) diminution of RB's role in the 'metal' 'In Absentia' and 'populist rock' 'Deadwing'; he's expressed dissatisfaction himself. He's back!
Aside from the production, I was also immediately impressed by the album's mastering (a different issue): not too loud, so there's room for dynamic subtlety and even on my very ordinary player there's negligible distortion at high volumes. It seems Porcupine Tree have stepped back from of the loudness war, presumably respecting the fact that their core market tends to be concerned about sound quality (consider the interest in high-resolution DVD-A technology, and criticism of compressed DVD-V), not to mention SW's own preferences. Notably, SW is credited as having mixed and mastered this album himself, whereas 'In Absentia' and 'Deadwing' were mastered by a third-party, Andy Van Dette, who evidently has more commercial 'everything louder than everything else' sensibilities.
To quote SW, interviewed by 'HDTV Etc.' magazine in 2005, if you want to hear it louder, "please use your volume knob".
Note that the album is deliberately not being sold by the band's web store at Burning Shed yet, nor from the merchandise stall at concerts on at least the UK part of the European tour, as the band wish initial purchasers to buy from chart-registered retailers. Once that promotional push subsides, Burning Shed should have copies, but they don't anticipate ever stocking the special edition, which was limited to 7,500 copies worldwide, all already accounted for – one by me.
Whilst the retail edition is a CD and standard booklet in a jewel case, the special edition comprises a CD, DVD and expanded 40-page booklet. The outer packaging, a thick card slipcase, contains:
- the CD and DVD in plastic sleeves, in a thinner card gatefold. The sleeves don't really fit into the gatefold, but that is nit-picking!
- a 40-page booklet containing the lyrics, album credits and extensive artwork. Like the slipcase and gatefold, the artwork features Lasse Hoile's characteristically downbeat photography laid out in the familiar Aleph style by Carl Glover. Lots of pills, empty landscapes, vacant teenagers and TVs tuned to dead channels.
I can't comment on the surround sound mix on the DVD, as I don't have a suitable amplifier system connected to my player, but it contains the PCM stereo mix too, which I can play.
I'd better stress that the special edition comes with a standard NTSC DVD i.e. a 'DVD-V', usable in any normal, modern DVD player capable of 5.1 surround sound output. It is not a DVD-A containing a higher-resolution mix only accessible by a dedicated DVD-A player. There is an intention to release a DVD-A later in 2007, almost certainly with bonus material, but this isn't it
. This is a standard-resolution 5.1 mix of the same six songs as on the main CD (accompanied by still photographs additional to those in the booklet), with no bonus tracks whatsoever.
If you'd expected the 'special' edition to compile all available bonus tracks and high-resolution mixes into one 'ultimate' edition, you must be new to Porcupine Tree.
Easily my album of the year (so far, though I'm not aware of release schedules being due to provide competition in 2007) and a very welcome antidote to Marillion's tired efforts.
[Update 22/04/07: 'Fear of a Blank Planet' reached no.31 in the UK album charts in its first week of release.]
[Interested in the live experience?]
4 April, 2007
I don't normally link to web videos which probably won't be archived for long, but this is fairly amusing.
It's a brief extract from a lecture given to music students by Steven Wilson (Bass Communion, Porcupine Tree, Blackfield, etc.), filmed by Nana.co.il. In it, he expressed a few opinions about the music industry, being a musician rather than an entertainer, and Aviv Geffen (the other half of Blackfield). He also played a few songs. One request was for 'Cloudy Now', but SW couldn't recall the chord sequence – so he rang Aviv.
Imagine someone like David Gilmour doing that; pulling out his mobile phone on stage, in front of a screaming audience, to ask "Hey, Roger; how does 'Comfortably Numb' go?"
1 April, 2007
Random queries no. 101
One of a series of genuine search engine enquiries which successfully brought visitors to the Ministry. Can I help?
are porcupine tree anti christian
What? Don't be so stupid.
1 March, 2007
Fear of a minisite
There's very little content present yet, but fans have discovered a promotional minisite for Porcupine Tree's forthcoming album, 'Fear Of A Black Planet'.
Initially, there's merely a countdown to the US release date (23 April; the UK/European release date is a week earlier, 16 April), a 6-min medley of low-res samples¹ and an opportunity to sign up for spam updates, but hopefully it'll become as substantial as the 'Deadwing' minisite² (i.e. not very informative, but a good taster).
1: A rather clearer copy of the same same medley is currently downloadable from the band's MySpace page.
[Update 30 March: the site has been updated, with the features one would expect: tour dates, icon/wallpaper downloads, a link to the main site and... something more if you can find the clickable hotspot.]
2: [Update 22/10/07: the Deadwing.com domain expired on 23/09/07.]
17 February, 2007
Review: 'Blackfield II' (Blackfield, 2007)
After planning a collaboration for some time, Steven Wilson (Bass Communion, Porcupine Tree, No-Man and several other projects) and Aviv Geffen (Israeli pop star) released an album of intelligent pop songs in 2004, under the name Blackfield. The follow-up to the eponymous debut album is cunningly entitled 'Blackfield II' and was officially released on 12 February, though pre-orders from Burning Shed and Headphone Dust were despatched slightly earlier; I've had my copy since 10 February so have had over a week to consider my reaction.
It's likely that most listeners approaching this album afresh (apart from those in Israel) will be Porcupine Tree fans who have never heard of Aviv Geffen. If only for those people, I could describe the Blackfield project as resembling the softer, melodic side of Porcupine Tree; in those terms it's most similar to the 'Stupid Dream'/'Lightbulb Sun' era (and near-totally dissimilar to the 'In Absentia'-'Fear Of A Blank Planet' hard-rock/metal era!). Geffen's unique compositional contribution is in adding an overtly 'pop rock' feel under-represented in SW's other work.
Totally unlike Porcupine Tree music, most tracks on 'Blackfield II' are around four minutes long, though one is just under 3 mins and the longest is 5:13. Though they share a common feel of melancholia (near-suicidal despair in a couple of instances), there isn't an overall theme, and these are ten standalone songs.
Fans drawn to the 'progressive (not 'prog') rock' or 'metal' side of Porcupine Tree have expressed slight disappointment with 'Blackfield II', particularly with the, er, less-than-challenging lyrics. It's probably important to know what one is getting: this is a 'pop-rock' project, and by the standards of the genre, it's above average. Besides, the music easily compensates for the lyrics.
I can't comment on Geffen's other music, but this is about as 'pop' as SW gets. I can't deny preferring slightly less predictable, more challenging material too, but I do like the album. Not even one track feels weak, and I don't feel an urge to skip even one.
Even more than on 'Blackfield', the most obvious performer is SW, though Geffen seems to have been the primary composer. SW wrote (music and lyrics) three* of the ten songs, Geffen wrote five, and the remaining two+ are 'music Geffen, lyrics Geffen/SW'. SW is the lead vocalist on 6 tracks, Geffen on one and they share lead vocals on on three. That, plus the fact that the vocals are lower in the overall mix, which takes the edge off any vocal idiosyncrasies, means that Geffen's relatively strongly-accented, annoyingly quavering voice is less apparent. Sorry, Geffen fans, but I think that works very well.
A couple of people have suggested the album is overproduced, but I don't agree at all. Compared to the stark 'Blackfield', 'Blackfield II' could be described as 'lush', but I like the densely layered soundscape a lot and don't recognise any reason to criticise. The first album probably established expectations of a simpler sound, but if one can get past that preconception (and I can without hesitation), multiple overdubs sound great. Admittedly, the electronic effects on '1,000 People' grab one's attention more than I might have chosen, and 'Miss U' and 'Where Is My Love?' sound a little 'busy', but I actually welcome the relative diminution of the vocals on those two tracks. Initially, I was a little concerned by the frequent use of what I thought was sampled strings, but they're played by a real ensemble, the Downtown Session Orchestra. Not that I quite understand why it matters that they're 'real' – for me, music is about the result, not the process.
Unmistakably the product of the same band, this is a slightly richer experience, which I expect to hold my attention longer. Much as I like the debut album, after the first month or so I've only played it rarely.
[Update 05/12/07: Wrong – I tired of this album very rapidly and haven't played it for months, but I've returned to the first album a few times.]
So; a few thoughts about the individual tracks. Overstating slightly, I could be described as a professional editor, so I'm naturally inclined to spot negative points, which may make my comments seem negative. Please bear in mind that I do like all these songs!
The intro/verse riff of 'Once' *: is extremely familiar – distractingly so, though I can't quite identify where I've heard it before. One almost expects to hear a different voice than SW's.
I want to stress that I do like this, an enjoyable pop-rock song, but it's not exactly groundbreaking. I could imagine it doing well in the pop charts, if it wasn't a little too generic. A quick survey at the Porcupine Tree Forum found a wide range of individual favourite tracks, but not one person ranked 'Once' as the single 'best' song.
Incidentally, it seems a little perverse that a song called 'Once' is being played twice at each of at least the first few concerts on the 2007 tour.
'1,000 People' + is about a pop star's inability to respond to fan adulation. It's a theme other lyricists have covered, and Geffen doesn't say anything new on the subject. I'm assured this is just a slightly inadequate translation of Geffen's original Hebrew lyrics, but that isn't exactly relevant: this rendition has to stand alone. And, in my opinion, it does. Even discounting the words themselves, the interaction of the vocal rhythm and instrumental music is compelling. The French horn, played by Itamar Leshem, is a well-chosen addition.
Speaking of individual favourite songs, this is SW's, apparently.
'Miss U' is the first song to feature Geffen as lead vocalist (the only one on which he takes the lead alone); in fact the first point at which I noticed his distinctive voice at all. The song is very similar to material on the debut album. Apart from the guitar solo/lead out, it's also rather repetitive and perhaps my least favourite track.
'Christenings' * is something of an oddity. It was written and demo'd as a potential Porcupine Tree song during the 'Deadwing' sessions. I'd thought SW had contributed the song to the Blackfield project to be recorded by this band, much like the debut album featured a number of Blackfield renditions of songs previously released by Geffen. Not this time: this is the Porcupine Tree recording, featuring SW, Richard Barbieri and Gavin Harrison (I'm not sure who played bass; perhaps Blackfield's Seffy Efrati, perhaps SW). Weird.
My initial thought was that it was better suited to a Blackfield album, as it's too overtly 'poppy' for Porcupine Tree, but it doesn't really have a Blackfield feel either.
It's inspired by Syd Barrett, apparently, but isn't specifically about him, having been generalised to refer to a generic has-been pop star. Pretty good, but not a highlight of the album.
SW's is the only voice clearly apparent in 'This Killer' (that could be said about most of the album, really), but I suppose Geffen is in the nice harmonies in this nice, melodic song. I'm afraid that's also a slight criticism: I don't really go for 'nice'. The result is pleasant enough, but undemanding. The clichéd 'twist in the tail' of the lyrics doesn't help.
'Epidemic' + is excellent; possibly my favourite track. Oddly, this five-minute song feels like the distillation of a far longer, structured piece, an impression heightened by a hint – only a hint – of Porcupine Tree-style metal-inspired guitar, which itself adds energy and a great sense of menace.
The brief inclusion of a female backing singer (Daniella Pick) near the end is another of the small yet valuable details which I regard as immensely beneficial to the overall result, and which others seem to regard as overproduction.
Something about 'My Gift Of Silence' * grabs me as being more creative than the others, displaying both a complexity and subtlety slightly lacking in other, generically 'poppy' tracks.
I genuinely wrote that sentence 'blind', before checking the album credits and discovering it's a SW composition (music and lyrics). Whatever; it's excellent.
Somehow, the first half of 'Some Day' reminds me of SW's cover version of Abba's 'The Day Before You Came'. Perhaps that's partly why the percussion in the middle section seems misplaced, clashing with the lyrical content and other instruments. Then again, that characteristic is shared by a couple of songs on 'Blackfield'.
'Where Is My Love?' was a bonus track on the European edition of 'Blackfield'. I didn't like it there (and my dislike has increased with time), for its over-sentimental content, repetitiveness and SW's odd vocal delivery (slurred 'r's). This is considerably better, with vocals lower in a richer (denser and more varied) instrumental mix. Shock, horror: I actually like it a lot, especially the guitar-led second half.
That there's a REM track with a similar title to End Of The World is coincidental, but repetition of that line in the chorus in this song is slightly reminiscent of the REM one too. However, that's only an initial impression, and the strength of the Blackfield song soon drives out the comparison. I can imagine this somewhat anthemic track becoming a popular encore piece.
The first few times I played the album, the songs weren't familiar enough for instant recognition, but each time I reached the chorus of this one and suddenly recognised it, I couldn't help grinning in anticipation – I loved it immediately.
That's ten tracks, giving a running time of 42½ minutes compared to 37 for the debut album. 'Blackfield' felt short, but this feels like a decent length, certainly within the range of traditional mainstream albums.
Oh; and for those who discovered this review whilst searching for 'blackfield II lyrics', they're in the CD booklet. At the time of writing, they're only available in the CD booklet, not online. I don't know whether that's deliberate, giving people a reason to buy the CD rather than download.
22 January, 2007
Pre-order 'Blackfield II'
It's been announced at SWHQ, but I thought I'd pass on the message that the European edition of 'Blackfield II' is now available for pre-order, to be despatched to arrive on or before the release date, 12 February. The N.American edition will be out on 6 March.
In case anyone (who's interested) doesn't know, Blackfield is a 'melacholic pop' collaboration between Steven Wilson (SW - Bass Communion, IEM, Porcupine Tree, et al.) and Aviv Geffen (Israeli pop star). See my reviews of the debut album for more information.
[Update 17:02/07: 'Blackfield II' is reviewed here.]
Pre-orders are being accepted by both Burning Shed and Headphone Dust. The album will be widely available from mainstream retailers, of course, but as SW says, purchases from BS or HD are of greater financial benefit to the artists.*
The former might be better for those ordering from outside the EU, as BS won't charge you UK VAT, apparently. However, the latter is offering a bonus item with pre-orders: a Lasse Hoile-designed postcard illustrating the lyrics to 'My Gift of Silence'. I'm so thrilled.... Actually, I know fans (lit: 'fanatics') who really would be excited.
*: Blackfield is possibly the most radio-friendly of SW's projects, and could even achieve chart success. Sales via major 'high street' retailers would count towards chart ranking, but neither BS nor HD are chart-registered. Boost the band's visibility or support their finances? It's a dilemma.
[Update 10/02/07: Those in the USA preferring to wait for the domestic release in March might like to consider pre-ordering from Newbury Comics. By special agreement, the first thousand albums pre-ordered will come with booklets signed by SW and Geffen.
16 January, 2007
A member of the Porcupine Tree Forum happened to notice that the Virgin online music store offers downloads of recent Porcupine Tree albums, including a radio edit of 'Shallow' which was previously only available as a not-for-sale promo single.
This excited certain completists, but I was a little disparaging: it's a DRM'd, restricted-resolution download, which inherently wouldn't interest me, and it's 'Shallow', a trashy pop-rock track which I'd have preferred to have been never released at all.
One response puzzled me:
but... but... it's Porcupine Tree, and a version not previously available!
I'm no collector or Porcupine Tree fanboy, and don't quite understand the 'need' to have everything they've ever released, but I have particular trouble comprehending the desire to collect downloaded material.
I can just about understand someone collecting 'things', such as coloured vinyl special editions with hand-made sleeves (though I wouldn't participate myself), but a download is just a string of 1s and 0s.
Seriously: what is the attraction of having an intangible, abbreviated copy of an existing track? Just having
it? Being able to tell
people you have it?
Another person shared my lack of interest in downloads:
I'm not tempted. It's like [someone else] said I need the product. didn't even download Rockpalast. It won't feel the same.
That's a bit different, and I don't understand that attitude either. The 'Rockpalast'
concert material was previously unavailable at all (not merely edits of existing tracks, like the 'Shallow'
promo single), and the downloads sold by Burning Shed
are non-DRM'd .wav files (losslessly compressed to .flac
). By definition, there's absolutely no difference, bit-for-bit, between a mass-produced CD and a download burned to CD-R. Both discs would contain identical .wav files.
If it's about the music, I see no disadvantage in downloading. Download, uncompress, burn, enjoy.
If it's about the object, and the music doesn't matter to you as much as the shiny plastic disc in your hand, okay, there's a difference, but I genuinely don't understand why it matters. Remember, when there's no known plan to ever release the recording on CD, it's download or nothing.
It's interesting that this one topic drew out the two extremes of 'fandom'. At one end, there are those who'll buy anything, simply to possess every note and hiccough ever committed to recording. At the other, there are supposed fans who'd rather not hear the music at all than buy a release they can't physically fondle.
8 January, 2007
Could be a good year
With an announcement from Steven Wilson (SW) at his own site, we now have a fairly good idea of the release and tour schedules of Porcupine Tree, Bass Communion, Blackfield and his other projects. 2007 is looking good!
- 'Pacific Codex' will be released at some point this year, presumably after at least the first round of Porcupine Tree tours in May/June. Unofficial sources say it's to be a CD and surround sound DVD-A in a 'deluxe' box, though personally I hope there's a less elaborate CD-only edition too.
- Technically, 'Continuum II' will be a Continuum album, but since that project is a collaboration between SW's dark-ambient side (i.e. Bass Communion) and VidnaObmana, I think this can be listed alongside 'Pacific Codex'.
- 'Fear Of A Blank Planet' is to be released in April. If you didn't already know: yes, that's the title of the new album.
More specifically, I suspect the European, or at least UK, release will be before 18 April, when the UK tour begins. The Manchester Academy is closed for building work at that time, apparently, so the NW England concert has had to be moved... to Preston, within cycling distance of my home!
- 'Lightbulb Sun' is finally scheduled for re-release after being out-of-print for far too long. Like last year's 'Stupid Dream' reissue, it'll be a combined package containing both a standard CD and a 5.1 mix of the album on DVD-A.
- Update 12/02/07: A flyer included in the packaging of 'Blackfield II' claims that Snapper will be reissuing 'Moonloop', 'Lightbulb Sun' and 'Recordings' in 2007, each remastered with bonus tracks and presented in a digipack. At least at the time of writing, this is not true – Snapper don't have the rights to 'Moonloop' and 'Recordings'.
- 'Collecting MySpace' is due to be released in May. This mini-album was a bit of a surprise, having barely been even rumoured before the announcement. As the title suggests, this Headphone Dust -only release is a compilation of the odd little tracks previously only heard at SW's MySpace page, plus additional material.
- 'Cover Version V' will be released later in the year. No hints about the single's specific content, of course, but there'll be a cover version of another artist's song, accompanied by an original SW song.
- 'Blackfield II' will be released in February/March, around the same time as European and US tours. The official site has samples.
There's only one UK concert, unfortunately, and I don't intend to travel to London specially, but there's a chance I could make it to Warszawa (in late February? Chilly!).
23 November, 2006
Grab the elusive T-shirts
If, like me, you missed out on the T-shirts briefly available at Porcupine Tree concerts on the last tour (that night's inadequate supply sold out within eight minutes at the Manchester concert) AND the remaining stock sold via Burning Shed (all gone within 24 hours), you (we) have one more, presumably final, opportunity.
Reprints are available to pre-order from the band's web store at Burning Shed, for despatch on 4 December. I suspect this means they're assessing the level of demand before printing an appropriate number, so I doubt (just a guess!) that there's any great urgency to submit an order immediately, but I also suspect that once they're gone, they're really gone.
1 October, 2006
Review: Porcupine Tree, Manchester Academy, 30 September, 2006
Porcupine Tree performed at the Manchester Academy last night, as part of a short tour to promote the new DVD. However, that description of a typical promotional concert understates a rather special event. Uniquely, the entire first set was devoted to fifty minutes of brand new music from the next studio album, as yet unrecorded. Only after a five-minute break did the band return to perform a further 45 minutes of music from the DVD, plus an encore.
I wouldn't normally take especial notice of exact timings, but people have been asking about it in online discussion groups, so:
- 19:30: doors opened
- 20:03-20:35: Paatos – support set
- 21:03-21:55: Porcupine Tree – new set
- 22:00-22:46: Porcupine Tree – DVD set
- 23:00: Curfew, though I suspect they over-ran a little.
The sole slight disappointment of the evening was being present when the final 'Arriving Somewhere...'
t-shirt of the night was sold. I was right there at the merchandise stand, probably the next person to be served, when Ade announced they'd all gone. This was eight minutes after the doors had opened, which rather suggests someone hadn't brought enough t-shirts to the concert – never mind me, the band lost out on potential sales. I certainly hope extra shirts are made available online after the tour. Not only leftover stock, either, as there's clearly enough demand to justify printing more specifically for Burning Shed
I dislike the very idea of support bands, so I'm afraid I wasn't particularly receptive to Paatos – I hadn't planned to attend their half-hour set at all, but since I was there it would have been churlish to ignore them. It was clear that they're an established, professional band with a well-developed sound of their own, and certainly not beginners delivering a jumble of testosterone-fueled derivativeness (what did happen to Porcupine Tree's 2003 support band, Adom, anyway? Who cares?). That said, I didn't especially like their material and I didn't think it supplemented Porcupine Tree especially well. The fact that Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson (SW) acted as producer on Paatos' 2004 album 'Kallocain' doesn't imply an especial compatibility.
Porcupine Tree's stage setup was fairly standard (bass & drums on the audience's right, second guitar and keyboards on the left, keyboards and drums on risers, lead guitar/vocals ranging across the middle of the stage), with one unexpected addition: a small keyboard was set up at the front for SW to use occasionally. He plays keyboards in the studio, of course, but it can't be much more than a year since the first time he played the piano live in a solo concert, and I think this is the first time with Porcupine Tree. It's a development I certainly welcome.
A screen was installed for projection behind the band, but I'm glad to say it was barely used: a Lasse Hoile film was shown briefly during the interval before the second set, something involving time lapse photography of cars and cloudscapes accompanied 'Arriving Somewhere But Not Here' and Przemysław Wszebor Bernacki's animation was shown during 'Start Of Something Beautiful'. Needless to say (again), I deliberately ignored them, particularly the latter. I was there to see the band, not watch a film, especially not one I could watch at home. I presume the 'Halo' film was used during the encore too, but I'd left by then.
The sound quality was... okay; pretty good by the standards of a typical rock concert but not as good as at the 2003 Porcupine Tree concert in the smaller Academy 2 venue next door (though that had the best live sound I've experienced). It was loud – very loud, which suited the new material perfectly but left me with hearing still appreciably impaired over twelve hours later. The bass was sensational, by which I mean it was felt as much as heard; I was frequently aware of my trousers vibrating against my legs and during the intro to the second Paatos song my glasses were moving on my face.
Partly because of the volume, there was some loss of separation of instruments, especially the bass and keyboards, and I couldn't clearly hear the new lyrics. There was some experimentation with stereo effects (Wes' guitar shifted from side to side during one new piece), but there wasn't sufficient clarity for album-style soundscapes or the surround-sound experience SW apparently intends to implement one day.
One odd consequence of the loud, bass-rich amplification was that in contrast, SW's voice occasionally sounded like that of a smurf. Rather distracting!
This was Porcupine Tree's first appearence in the larger Academy 1 venue. I stood further forward than I normally choose (about ten 'rows' back, rather than near the soundboard), so it was difficult to judge the size and density of the rear of the crowd, but it looked pretty full as I left before the encore, and if it means anything, my ticket, bought a couple of weeks beforehand, was no.1,438. I think the official capacity is around 1,750-1,800. There were definitely more people present than at the Marillion concert in the same venue two years ago (Marillion claimed that concert was sold-out, but having seen tonight's visibly larger audience, I now think that was empty hype).
From where I was standing, the audience seemed older and more predominantly male than I'd expected – I'd thought the post-2002 albums would have attracted a younger, more metal-orientated audience. Maybe they were at the front. There were some in their teens and early twenties, but I didn't spot many band t-shirts and a woman near me seemed dressed for a quiet night at a cricket club!
On the whole, the audience was still and attentive, especially for the first set, though there was greater audible & visible reaction during the second set of more familiar material, even more of a 'party' atmosphere (for those who appreciate that sort of thing...).
There was the usual inability to 'be in the moment' – people were taking photos throughout the first set, some into the second set, and one person rang a friend and held up the phone during 'The Sound of Muzak', right in front of my face – briefly.
SW spoke very little between songs – even less than usual, I think. He said 'hello' after the first song and explained the plan for the evening (then repeated it when the audience's response to the idea of a lot of brand new material wasn't as effusive as he'd wanted), he announced the five-minute break at the end of the first set and he spoke briefly before the final song of the second set, which was the only one he introduced by name. Otherwise, the band just played and the audience were left to recognise songs for ourselves.
One thing he did say, which worried me slightly, was that the preview material was being played both as rehearsal before recording the forthcoming album and to gauge audience responses. The latter is an awful idea. I really wouldn't want an 'obvious' crowd-pleasing album from Porcupine Tree (parts of 'Deadwing' were bad enough, in that respect), and I hope the band will produce the album they want, hopefully something which challenges the audience rather than merely satisfies customers' whims. That way lies disposable, vacuous Coldplay-style rubbish!
So; the new music.
The first set featured six tracks intended for the new album (not seven – a quiet section in the third song seems to have confused some people). Considering past albums have had running times of about an hour each, I may have heard most of the new one.
Oddly enough, I was reveling in just hearing the new material rather than analysing it and taking detailed notes, so I'm afraid I can't offer a meaningful review of individual pieces.
None of the new tracks have been given titles (at least publicly) and none were individually introduced. Nothing is known of the thematic content or overall direction, but if this is a true representation, it's going to be much more intensely heavy than its forerunners.
I'm afraid I don't know much about genre subtleties, but I'd describe the new 'heaviness' as more industrial than metal. There's a wonderful 'wall of noise' effect, overlaid by guitar & keyboard melodies and textures. The drums contribute a rapid mechanical heartbeat, which is an excellent base for ominous, threatening music, very different to the more upbeat rock of 'Deadwing'. It really is heavy, too – at least at high volume in a concert setting, this could be the heaviest Porcupine Tree yet.
I mean that individual tracks are intense, but not that the album will be an unrelenting onslaught. SW played keyboards (mainly a piano effect when the lead instrument and a mellotron effect as accompaniment elsewhere) and Wes provided vocal harmonies & backing on some of the preview songs which, though not exactly 'ballads', were closer to the old, downbeat material of 1999-2001. No, that's not quite right; they don't directly sound like songs from 'Stupid Dream', 'Lightbulb Sun' or 'Recordings', but are similar in overall feel, as opposed to anything on more recent albums.
My major criticism of the 'Deadwing' album was that some elements were too 'obvious' and populist. Some parts seemed oddly familiar, as if I'd heard them before without being able to identify specific sources; I think it's the overall feel that was too generic. Some of those riffs and choruses seemed written to instantly entertain without challenging the listener, even to boost marketability. Thankfully, the new material is a welcome return to originality. It's not remarkably different to other bands and indeed foregoing Porcupine Tree albums, but the hooks are better hidden and this isn't easy, party music.
I received the impression that the preview material was primarily instrumental, which, in hindsight, implies this was work-in-progress and more is to be added. Some of the instrumental sections seemed a little repetitive (not that repetition of excellent music is a problem, and it often enhances the immersive experience I've appreciated in earlier Porcupine Tree long songs). Likewise, some lyrics were repeated several times, suggesting they were 'holding text' to be elaborated later. I'm not sure how I feel about the idea of the instrumentals acquiring lyrics – I already like them as they are!
I'd like to say it was all wonderful, and I almost can, but I'm afraid the fifth track seemed to lack direction and featured some sort of guitar frenzy by SW which impressed the teenagers in front of me but to me was just pointless noise; there didn't seem to be an emotional backing to it with which I could engage. Likewise, the first half of the final track seemed, well, whiny, though it consolidated and built to an excellent ending.
In summary, I loved almost all of the first set, from the initial explosion of guitar noise to the last, and I'm looking forward to hearing the finished album with an intensity I didn't feel for 'In Absentia' and 'Deadwing'. The new material promises to blow away anything on 'Deadwing', and the third preview piece, a '17-minute beast' known about beforehand, is even better than 'Arriving Somewhere But Not Here'. Those who haven't been able to attend a concert on this tour and haven't had the privilege of the preview (and I do feel privileged, really) have missed something special.
The second set was more conventional.
Some who have attended shows on this mini-tour have complained that the song selection was a little stale, even suggesting the band 'must' be bored playing the same songs each night. After fifty minutes of brand new music, I think the band can be forgiven a return to familiar material in the second set – I doubt boredom is an issue. Demanding even more variety strikes me as excessively cheeky.
Others have criticised the focus on post-2002 material at the expense of the back-catalogue, and the lack of anything from 'Stupid Dream'. Firstly, it should be clear that this is the 'Arriving Somewhere...' tour to specifically promote the release of the live DVD. It's not the 'Stupid Dream' tour, and the fact that that album was reissued a few months ago is of no relevance. The second set was always going to draw on the DVD tracklist (which could have allowed 'Even Less' and 'Don't Hate Me', I suppose, though I don't think they'd have fitted the context). Secondly, this is still part of the overall promotional effort for 'Deadwing', so that album was bound to be favoured.
- Open Car – not a favourite from 'Deadwing', as the chorus, and particularly the lead-in to the chorus, suffers from the 'obviousness' flaw I mentioned earlier. That said, it was played well and was fun. The stage lights were directed at the crowd during key moments, and it was plain that people were enjoying it.
- The Sound Of Muzak
- Buying New Soul – somehow, the 'new' keyboards intro didn't work quite so well as on the DVD (though the transition to guitar was better), possibly because the audience's attention seemed to wander and conversation was audible over the relatively quiet music.
- Arriving Somewhere But Not Here – as excellent as always, though Wes' guitar solo after the climax of the song was a little too close to self-indulgent prog and I confirmed my earlier impression that, overall, the new '17-minute beast' is better.
- The Start Of Something Beautiful
- Trains – this drew a roar from the crowd (and a curious yelp from the cricket club woman) when it was announced, but a collective unfamiliarity with the music was revealed by extended applause in the normally-brief gap before the song's finale. SW seemed amused/confused, and just for a moment I though he was going to go with the crowd reaction and stop early. Thankfully not.
I'd had a problem with accommodation so needed to leave immediately after the main concert in order to catch a train. However, I already knew from reports of the mainland European concerts that the encore
pieces would be 'Halo'
and 'Blackest Eyes'
. It was a pity to miss the latter, but it's been a staple of sets since 2002, so I've heard it numerous times in concert recordings. The former is one of the two 'Deadwing'
songs I downright dislike, so it was no hardship at all to miss it.
And then a brisk 20-min walk to Oxford Road station, an hour on a crowded train to Preston with not too many drunks, a 21-mile bike ride (~12 in increasingly heavy rain) to Lancaster, and straight to bed by 02:15!
23 September, 2006
Review: 'Arriving Somewhere...' (Porcupine Tree, 2006)
Have you bought your copy of Porcupine Tree's new live DVD (their first, after over a decade of touring), 'Arriving Somewhere...', yet?
I suppose I'd better declare a disinterest: generally, I don't like concert videos. I don't choose to experience music visually, and tend to listen whilst doing other things. I very rarely just sit and devote my full attention to music for more than a few minutes, and if I wanted to watch a DVD, it'd almost invariably be a feature film. For me, the music is about the music, and only the music. I have limited interest in the musicians, less in stage visuals, and no interest at all in the audience and 'live ambience'. Amongst the music DVDs I own, Pink Floyd's 'The Wall' and Marillion's 'Brave' are the only ones I've watched more than once, and I've yet to even finish two others by Marillion – mistaken purchases, in hindsight. I rented Opeth's 'Lamentations' a while ago, and thought the documentary was fairly good, but I returned it without even glancing at the concert footage, nominally the main content.
I made an exception for Porcupine Tree because a) it's Porcupine Tree and b) I can listen to the audio even if I don't bother with the video.
The first 2000 copies of 'Arriving Somewhere...' were a 'Special Edition', which sold out via pre-orders alone within four days – not bad considering that promotion was limited to a notice on the band's website, discussion amongst fans & an advert on the back cover of 'Classic Rock' magazine, and that sales were exclusively from the band's own web store. Further copies are selling extremely well on the accompanying mini-tour: the merchandise stall started the tour with 600 and sold them all at the first four shows.
The set comprises two DVDs in DVD-sized digipack packaging, itself in a card slip case. A (nearly) complete 105-min concert from the second 'Deadwing' US tour occupies the first disc, compiled from shows at the Park West, Chicago on 11 and 12 October, 2005. The second disc contains bonus material, described below. It's unclear whether a single-disc edition will be available at a later date.
The video format is region-free NTSC, which is playable on modern European, nominally PAL, DVD players.
The audio is in both PCM stereo and DTS 5.1 surround sound. I haven't heard the latter, but others have reported a slightly unusual mix which favours the side speakers and the bass end; no-one has expressed disappointment.
The content of the 'Special Edition' DVDs is identical to that of the the standard edition, but the first 2000 slip cases are numbered (I have sticker no.790) and came with six postcards. I know, I know; I could barely contain my excitement either. I'm sure they're very collectible postcards.
Disc One: The Concert
I'm not going to review the menu screens beyond saying they were adequate, using the same photography and design motifs as the cover.
Unfortunately, after the nice, feature-film-like opening titles, the main concert video made Carl Glover's very clean, colour-rich graphics for that cover and packaging seem almost misleading.
I'd dreaded, but been prepared for, excessively jumpy cutting between the multiple cameras (nine camera operators are credited), and got exactly that. Few shots were held for more than five seconds, and when the viewpoint returned to a particular camera, it had moved, increasing the slight disorientation. Annoying, but I've seen worse, and some of the cuts were to different views of the same subject, so some coherency was achieved.
However, I hadn't expected faux-degraded video material.
I'm pretty sure the raw footage was obtained using standard, modern cameras, with decent picture quality, but Lasse Hoile's post-production rendered the whole thing distinct grainy and in either sepia or the faded colours of aged cine emulsion. Film 'noise', including scratches, dust, and hairs were added as routine elements, with more extreme degradation (blotchiness, burned frames, etc.) in places.
Some the freeze-frame images actually make excellent stills, but this simply isn't what I want from a concert DVD. I want clear views of the band and their activities, and I doubt I'm alone. For example, for the bass-solo intro to 'Hatesong', the camera rightfully stayed on Colin Edwin, but the image is too dark, in grainy monochrome overlaid by coloured blotches & fake scratches and was deliberately blurred. All very atmospheric, but I'd quite like to actually see Colin. I'm sure some bass players would be interested in seeing his hands at that point; impossible.
Some 'arty/grungy' special effects might have been justified, but only occasionally, as atmosphere supplementing the primary content, the clean footage. Instead, this heavy-handed filtering becomes the focus of the production, imposing a barrier between the viewer and the immersive experience.
Presenting clean, unmodified images may be too 'obvious' and may have been done before on other bands' DVDs, but there's no merit in difference for the sake of difference, and anyway, effects become dated and cliched long before unpretentious footage which simply documents on-stage activities. Some people (on the production side more than the audience, I suspect) might find that boring, but I can only comment on my own taste, and this DVD doesn't satisfy my preferences.
To be fair, I did become accustomed to the style (and it's used less on later tracks), so it didn't totally spoil the experience, but I still wish it had been done differently and it irritates me that perfectly good footage was deliberately and unnecessarily degraded. If only I had access to Hoile's computer, so I could re-render the whole thing using the original, unfiltered material....
On the whole, the audience were unobtrusive, apart from in the obligatory 'from the crowd' shots, but there was at least one ****er standing right in front of the stage who kept raising his hand into the line of sight. Yes, you can go to the toilet, and don't ****ing come back.
The setlist was pretty good, showcasing the latest material without being too obvious (five songs from 'Deadwing' and three non-album tracks) and balanced by slightly older material (four from 'In Absentia' (2002), one from 'Recordings' (2001), one from 'Lightbulb Sun' (2000) and two from 'Stupid Dream' (1999)).
By the way, the aforementioned rendition of 'Hatesong' was wonderful, as was the subsequent track, 'Don't Hate Me'. Very nice instrumental sections. Richard Barbieri's keyboards intro to 'Buying New Soul' was another high point.
That's worth stressing: whatever my disappointment with the video component of the DVD, the music is excellent, especially the pre-'Deadwing' pieces, which tended to be substantial elaborations of the album versions (the newer material was mostly played 'as-is'). I do anticipate playing the DVD frequently as an audio live album and, if only on that basis, recommend it highly.
Disc Two: The Bonus Material
I drastically prefer this style of concert video. The cuts were still a little jumpy, but the shots were held longer than the Chicago set and the jumps were between a small number of consistent viewpoints, so they're not too confusing. There are no distracting visual effects, either; just clear, true-colour coverage of the band.
'Radioactive Toy' is one of my favourite songs, and it was interesting to hear an interpretation by the current lineup. Too short! In the full version, as heard on 'Coma Divine', it was the extended 'ambient' middle section leading into the full-on rock climax which made the song special, so skipping the former diminished the latter, for me.
'Lazarus' promo video
I love the song, but the video is nothing special; cine film footage of a 1970s? family holiday in Québec intermingled with close-ups of band members. There's no specific cause for complaint, but earlier promo videos for Porcupine Tree and Blackfield have been so much more innovative and compelling.
It was a good idea to include these short videos, as I suspect many concert-goers would find them interesting. I'm afraid I don't. In general, back projections aren't my thing. I don't want the distraction of someone else's visual interpretation of the music; at a concert I only want to see the band, whereas when listening to the music elsewhere I want to form my own mental images. Hence, I'd find these projected videos mere annoyances at concerts, and feel little inclination to watch them at home.
'Halo': I don't like the song anyway, so I suspect the one time I've watched this will also be the last.
'Mother And Child Divided': Actually, I'm not sure these things even work outside the concert setting. In isolation this was just boring.
'Start of Something Beautiful': That's more like it. This had the production standards of a 'proper', standalone promo video; punctuated by more generic imagery, it incorporated an excellent puppet animation by Przemysław Wszebor Bernacki which I would choose to watch for its own merits (though I still wouldn't want to see it at a concert). It accompanied a song I particularly like, but I doubt the video will influence my interpretation and appreciation of the song itself, thankfully.
Interesting enough, though I doubt I'd choose to watch the full 9½ minutes more than a couple of times. However, it's accompanied by the only totally new music on the DVD set: an almost ambient instrumental piece which I've immediately ripped to .wav for more frequent listening. Pretty good.
Why does a Porcupine Tree DVD include a Gavin Harrison solo track? It's okay (put it this way: I won't be ripping this to my mp3 player), but irrelevant, and I doubt I'll play it again.
[Update 1/10/06: interested in the live experience?]
22 August, 2006
Notice to Porcupine Tree CD-R traders
It's fairly well known that the forthcoming European and US tours of Europe and the USA by Porcupine Tree will feature significant amounts of material from the next album, several months ahead of the release date. That's nothing new for the band; songs such as 'Dark Matter' and 'Even Less' entered the live repertoire up to a year before appearing on studio albums. Thanks to private individuals covertly recording concerts, fans have had previews of shifts in creative direction and there's an interesting archive of working versions.
Porcupine Tree have always been extremely tolerant of tapers and non-commercial CD-R traders. They aren't a hippie jam band (thank ****) who openly encourage recording, but they've always turned a blind eye to discreet taping and are on good terms with ethical traders* and communities such as 'PT-Weeds', a self-policing Yahoo! Group where both experienced traders and fans new to trading meet to share recordings.
However, circumstances have changed slightly. Porcupine Tree are signed to major record labels nowadays and, partly because of their (past?) policy of releasing limited-editions, have become very collectible. This has been irresistible to commercial bootleggers and pirates. Understandably, the band are concerned about widespread distribution of pre-release recordings.
The fundamentally good relationship with CD-R traders isn't changing, but the more copies of the new material that exist, the greater the likelihood that they'll spread beyond the trading community and on to eBay, etc. Obviously, band and venue representatives can't interview everyone spotted recording so, regrettably, they're imposing a temporary blanket ban (leave your blankets at home).
Over the weekend, the band's management contacted the PT-Weeds administrators to explain that Porcupine Tree need to make an especial effort to prevent recording at the forthcoming concerts, adopting a 'zero-tolerance' policy. Additional staff will be present to monitor this, and anyone caught taping will be removed from the venues.
It's important to remember that this isn't a permanent shift in policy and is no criticism of established tapers & traders. It's addressing a specific issue, for a specific time period. Once the material has been released officially in Spring 2007, discreet concert recording will be permitted (well, tolerated) again.
To quote the notification sent to the 500+ members of PT-Weeds:
I hope everyone will understand and respect the band's position on this, for a number of reasons:
- We all want to support P-Tree, right?
- The band's management went to the trouble of contacting the PT-Weeds 'management' to explain the situation. They didn't have to. That alone deserves some respect.
- Self-interest! The continued existence of a P-Tree taping/trading community relies on the band's goodwill and tacit, if not publicised, approval. Let's not jeopardise that.
It has to be acknowledged that whatever official action is taken, one or two people are going to succeed in recording concerts. I hope no-one would be childish enough to regard that as a challenge – 'beating' the band merely to boast about the achievement isn't heroic.
I'm kind of torn. I fully agree with the requirement to keep unofficial recordings out of circulation for a while, but if I'm honest I still hope the concerts get recorded, for distribution after the new studio album is released and the trading ban is lifted. Essentially, that's the policy at PT-Weeds:
... trading of recordings from the imminent tours will be banned at PT-Weeds, but only until the album release next Spring. If anyone defies the band and makes recordings, they'll be tradeable after the album release, but not before.
*: Concert recordings are shared on a strictly non-commercial basis amongst fans who have already bought pretty much everything a band has released officially. Unofficial recordings are no substitute for the official releases, and official releases aren't traded. If a band decide to release a recording of a particular concert, unofficial sources are withdrawn from circulation immediately.
The self-policing aspect often extends to actively combatting bootleggers: if an illicit recording appears for sale at eBay, a band might contact the auction company to have the sale withdrawn, but fans contact the bidders to inform them that the same recording is available for free via CD-R trading, denying the bootlegger an income next time, too.
8 August, 2006
Breaking the 'Loop
In 1994, whilst composing the music for the 'The Sky Moves Sideways' album, Porcupine Tree recorded a 40-minute improvisation. This was later edited down to 17 minutes as 'Moonloop', but the full improvisation was made available to mailing list subscribers as 'Transmission 4'.
However, P-Tree's then record company, Delerium, owned the rights to the recording, so released a limited number of CD copies in 2001 [Delerium makes the point that this was the first commercial release]. Some found this a little surprising at the time, since Steven Wilson is known to be a record collector himself, who values the idea of truly limited editions (and the 1994 'Transmission 4' release was it!).
In March 2006, Delerium re-released 'Transmission 4' as a limited edition vinyl LP. Porcupine Tree left Delerium in 2001-2, but the label retained the rights to the early material, and the right to make reissues with or without the involvement of the band [Delerium reports that it was remastered for vinyl by SW; I've heard that from no other sources, but presuming it's true, that suggests a degree of support, or perhaps making the best of the inevitable].
At least P-Tree still receive royalties and had the opportunity to sell some of the reissues via their own web store at Burning Shed.
A couple of days ago, Delerium reissued the vinyl edition – anyone spot a slight inconsistency in reissuing something billed as 'limited'? Whatever; they have that right. It's now possible to preorder copies, exclusively from Delerium's web store, Freak Emporium, not from P-Tree's store. The band will not be selling their own music this time.
This entry has two purposes.
Firstly, it's to express my personal distaste for Delerium's use of their ex-clients' back-catalogue – as is their legal right, of course. No-one is suggesting it's illicit.
Secondly, it's to pass on a rumour.
[No longer relevant - basically, it was rumoured that the band would not object to fans trading the 'Moonloop' improvisation on CD-Rs, on a strictly non-commercial basis. Soon after that rumour spread, it became clear that it was incorrect, and I updated the entry to say so. As I said in the update, I hope fans will respect that, and buy CDs legitimately.]
[ENTRY RE-EDITED 4 MAY, 2007, FOLLOWING 'CLARIFICATION' FROM RICHARD ALLEN, OF DELERIUM.]
18 July, 2006
Crediting the Tree
Anyone who's interested presumably already knows that Porcupine Tree now have a download store at Burning Shed, offering live and obscure recordings (generally EPs and whole concerts rather than individual tracks) in relatively high-res .mp3 and full-res .flac* formats.
Therefore, I won't go into detail about the initial range of recordings on offer:
- 'Futile': a compilation of non-album tracks from 'In Absentia';
- 'XM': a re-release of a digital radio session from 2002, remixed by SW and previously available on CD;
- 'Rockpalast': a concert from last November previously broadcast by German TV, now remixed by SW;
- and 'Tinto Brass', the one track omitted from 'Warszawa' due to space considerations. That one is .mp3-only, and a free download.
The purpose of this entry is to suggest how
to buy the downloads.
Each release has a set price, 'per album', but it's also possible to buy credits, valid for downloads by any of the artists hosted by Burning Shed. The credits can then be redeemed against specific recordings, nominally on a 'one credit per minute of music' basis.
Why bother? Bought in bulk, credits are cheaper, which means albums bought by the less direct route are slightly cheaper. One credit costs 40p, 100 cost £15. The price of 'Rockpalast' in .flac is £11.50 'per item' or 74 credits, and hence £11.10 (if one bought 100 credits – it's £12.30 if one bought exactly 74 credits, so don't!). That's only a minor saving, and leaves one with 26 unused credits, but the cumulative savings of buying a few releases this way will be worthwhile.
A slight flaw of the store is that the price of each release in credits isn't currently shown until one has already bought credits, and it's not literally as simple as 1 credit per minute of music. I'd like to think that's a teething problem. 'Rockpalast' is 96 mins long, but costs 74 credits, not 96.
One thing that seems to have drawn criticism from N.Americans: even in credits, the prices seem high. Remember that Burning Shed is a UK-based retailer, trading at UK prices, which are drastically higher than in N.America. Consider the UK high-street price of a 2-CD set, knock off the cost of the CDs themselves, the jewel case and the printed artwork, and that's what you'll pay for the 'Rockpalast' download. Actually, it's marginally better than that; £11-12 for a double CD album is very low by UK standards. Think of it as buying albums by international mail order, rather than domestic releases from your local store, and consider yourself lucky not to be paying international postage too!
*: I was surprised to discover that FLAC is unfamiliar to a large number of people. Essentially, it's a lossless compression format for digital audio, unlike .mp3, which compresses by discarding data and hence sound quality. FLAC gives sensible file sizes for downloading (tens of megabytes rather than hundreds) but unpacks to .wav format which is, by definition, CD-quality (commercial CDs are in .wav format, masked by .cda 'header' files). The FLAC format and encoding/decoding utilities are open-source and free (the 'f' of 'FLAC' is 'free'); see the FLAC home page for further details and downloads.
30 June, 2006
Reissue reissuing issue
As I mentioned in my review of the recent reissue of Porcupine Tree's 'Stupid Dream', there's a technical fault on the first batch of the accompanying DVD, whereby the extended edition of 'Even Less' cuts-out three minutes before the end.
Burning Shed are distributing replacement copies, but only to those who request them. The e-mail address you need is 'orders[at]burningshed.com'.
20 May, 2006
Review: Stupid Dream reissue (Porcupine Tree, 2006)
It's here. After having been out-of-print for about four years (blame Atlantic/Warner/Lava), Porcupine Tree's most highly-sought album, 'Stupid Dream' is back on sale, as a shiny new remix/remaster.
I'm not going to review the album itself in detail, instead concentrating on the new aspects of the package.
'Stupid Dream' is by far my favourite Porcupine Tree album and the opening track, 'Even Less', is my favourite Porcupine Tree song. Both would easily be amongst my all-time favourites by any artist if I was so anal as to rank albums and songs.
'Piano Lessons' and 'A Smart Kid' are also especially high highlights, but there are very few weak points in the entire composition. Forget 'In Absentia' and 'Deadwing', this is the Porcupine Tree I love.
Maybe it's because of my particular familiarity with the original album, but this is the first Porcupine Tree remix that's been immediately apparent as different to the original. Even in stereo (I haven't heard the 5.1 mix) there's greater depth, with previously unregarded background elements catching my attention for the first time. 'Pure Narcotic' is particularly enhanced, but I'd better stress that these are enhancements, not more substantial revisions. The original material is suddenly in greater focus, but it's still the same material.
The second disc, a DVD-A (playable in any DVD player, but not a CD player, to state the obvious), contains bonus material: two extra tracks, a video, a photo gallery and the album lyrics.
I already had the 'Piano Lessons' video on the 'Stranger By The Minute' CD single, but a number of people have reported that subsequent updates to Quicktime have rendered that unplayable, so it's good to have it back.
The concert photos of the band don't interest me (no criticism, they're just not my thing), and the lyrics are in the booklet, so I don't anticipate visiting those sections of the DVD-A again.
Alongside bonus material, the DVD-A contains the entire album in 5.1 surround sound. There's also a PCM (24-bit high-res stereo) mix for those without a 5.1 player, but rather surprisingly, the two bonus audio tracks are only offered in 5.1, not stereo. My first impression was that this rendered them inaccessible to anone without a surround sound DVD player (my PC's DVD-ROM drive won't even show them). That wouldn't be disastrous, as they were previously released in stereo on 'Recordings', but it's a strange omission and besides, 'Recordings' is out-of-print. Anyone who didn't buy the original edition of 'Stupid Dream', i.e. the target market of this new edition, is also unlikely to have bought 'Recordings'.
However, that's a false alarm: I subsequently discovered that my very basic standalone DVD (standard DVD-V) player does play the bonus tracks through the two speakers of my TV. If that can handle them, I doubt anyone else will have a problem.
[Update 19:00: Those who have equipment capable of playing the 5.1 mix are reporting a technical fault. The DVD-A actually contains two 5.1 formats: DTS, for standard DVD players, and a higher-resolution DVD-A format only readable by dedicated DVD-A players. Apparently, the DTS version of the first bonus track, the full-length version of 'Even Less', cuts out at 11 mins, three minutes before the end. The DVD-A version seems okay, but far fewer people have DVD-A players than DVD players.]
Incidentally, the title menu animation of the DVD-A features a circle of video material gradually eclipsed by a black CD. Steven Wilson (SW) has always resisted comparisons between Porcupine Tree and Pink Floyd, so it's surprising that the eclipse, a motif so closely associated with 'Dark Side Of The Moon' and Pink Floyd's signature visual style, wasn't deliberately avoided.
I've always considered Carl Glover's graphic design style to have been heavily influenced by Storm Thorgerson's work for Pink Floyd, and the new 'Stupid Dream' booklet is no exception. I'm not saying there was the remotest intention to copy it, but I see a similarity to the 'Dark Side Of The Moon' booklet's layout and photography.
When it was first announced that the reissue of 'Stupid Dream' would have redesigned artwork, I was unconvinced that that was necessary, and frankly still am. The only weak point of the original version was the band photo, and that's the only aspect carried across to the new version. However, I suppose the new booklet has greater visual cohesion, the lyrics are readable, and after all, it's SW's album: if he didn't like the old artwork, he's entitled to replace it.
To restate earlier entries: the 2-disc edition of 'Stupid Dream' is exclusively available by mail-order from the band's own web store, Burning Shed. It will not be sold via high street stores or other web retailers, so don't bother to shop around. There is to be a retail edition, containing only the remixed/remastered album on CD without bonus material, but no release date has even been implied. Do not wait – it could be several months away; if past events are any indication, it could even be years. For the foreseeable future, it's Burning Shed or nothing.
[Update 11/7/06: Contrary to the original plan, the two-disc edition will be available via normal retail outlets for a limited period.]
26 April, 2006
This song leaks out
At long last, a release date has been announced for 'Stupid Dream', my absolute favourite Porcupine Tree album which was initially released in 1999 but which has been out-of-print since 2002 due to record company issues.
A remixed and remastered edition of 'Stupid Dream' will be released on 15 May with a bonus DVD-A containing a surround sound mix of the album. As itemised before, there will be bonus material. Pre-orders are being accepted immediately.
It is very important to note that this edition will only be available from Burning Shed (Porcupine Tree's own web store), and absolutely no others. Do not wait for your local store or Amazon to obtain copies, as that is never intended to happen. Mail order from Burning Shed is the only option.
A 1-CD general retail edition will be issued eventually, but that will definitely omit the DVD-A and presumably the bonus tracks, and no release date has even been implied yet. Due to record company issues (yes, the same ones), this release date could be a long way off.
[Update 11/7/06: Well, that was the original plan. With apologies, the band have announced that the two-disc edition will be available via normal retail outlets for a limited period.]
Oh; Burning Shed are also offering a 2-LP vinyl edition, with bonus tracks. The release date is the same as the CD/DVD-A edition, 15 May, and preorders are similarly being accepted now.
8 December, 2005
Burning bridges: here; use my lighter
The current issue of 'Explicitly Intense', a US metal magazine, features an interview with Steven Wilson (SW), of Porcupine Tree (amongst several other projects). One of the questions inspired a rather... forthright comment on regressive 'prog' acts such as Transatlantic and the Flower Kings (TFK), whose output is heavily based on the music of the early 1970s. Surprisingly, Roine Stolt, of TFK and Transatlantic, felt the need to respond publicly (I don't know where, but the following quotes were republished at the Porcupine Tree Forum).
Jeff Nau (Explicitly Intense magazine):
As far as progressive rock goes and had gone,what do you feel about what's happening now? Dream Theater is still doing very well, and now there's a new kind of prog rising up with bands like the Mars Volta and even Radiohead – but also with older-sounding groups like the Flower Kings and Transatlantic. What do you think needs to happen for it to survive?
Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree):
Okay, I think that answer is very simple: bands like the Mars Volta, Tool, and Radiohead – these bands are the future of progressive music.
Bands like the Flower Kings and Transatlantic? The DEATH of progressive music. These are the bands that reinforce every prejudice people have about progressive rock: old-fashioned, pompous, pretentious, hung-up on sci-fi concepts – that for me is rubbish. But there's a new wave of bands that for me are being influenced just as much by hip-hop as they are King Crimson or Godspeed You Black Emperor and bands like us as well, I hope.
For me, Transatlantic and the Flower Kings – and I have heard these bands, unfortunately – they're following the blueprint from 1972 so closely; it's completely pointless and redundant. They're never going to better the originals, anyway – why bother? Whatever's going around should be part of their musical vocabulary.
I don't particularly dig generic music, whether it's hardcore metal or hip-hop, even down to the prog bands you mentioned. They're following a formula way too closely. For me, being progressive is about taking the word at face value: if a band is going to try to be progressive, they shouldn't be looking at the past – they should be looking at everything that's going on around them now, from hip-hop to trip-hop to death metal to trance. The word 'progressive' is about the FUTURE.
Yay! Well said! Though I like Transatlantic immensely, at least as much as Porcupine Tree (I couldn't say the same about TFK), I totally agree with SW.
Roine Stolt, via e-mail to [?]:
It's correct, it IS a personal preference and it IS OK to have an opinion. It's just that it comes across as a bit aggressive and who knows... silly, as neither Flowerkings or Transatlantic have ever been dealing with "sci-fi lyrics", at least to my knowledge. But I fear it is more than an opinion, it is a bit of an aggressive statement, meant to hurt or diminish.
What he present is his opinion that we are the 'death of progressive rock', it is not that nice a statement really. I suppose he's trying to say that bands like us scare the younger audience or the hip crowd and press away, that he now apparently is eager to please, it is in his 'marketing plan'.
I suppose Stolt can be forgiven for not being familiar with SW's more generally-stated position, just as SW can be forgiven for not paying full attention to the lyrical content of certain bands, but he's missing the point. It's about artistic integrity (which sounds pretentious; whatever), not popularity. It's not about conforming to an image – quite the reverse.
We all fight for recognition, but a bit of positivism is sometimes better that hanging out what should/could be your friends.
****ing hippie sh*t (but you knew I was going to say that).
It's that Steven does not seem to care if he piss me off, or Portnoy or Trewavas off, or whoever have helped him in the past, I think he believes it just add to his credibility... or coolness??!!! So he don't like Symphonic/prog, fine, but my question would be, is he now into the more metal things because he loves it or because it simply have a bigger audience. My guess is that Steven's career means a lot to him and he do whatever it takes to make PT a bigger act, he wanna be in with the cool in-crowd, the dark tattooed guys. In that sense I can see that any 'flowery' old school hippie band like TFK looks like a bad future and something he wanna steer away from rapidly, not to be connected.
As I mentioned above, I believe Stolt is totally misattributing SW's motivations, which he's expressed quite frequently. SW wants to be progressive (an approach encompassing all genres) but never 'prog' (a specific, fixed, genre) – there's a difference
. Since 2002, his view has been that "death metal is the new progressive rock"
, and he's taken Porcupine Tree in that direction somewhat. In 2006 or 2007, it could be hip-hop, or folk, or polka. It's all about the music, not sales figures, nor popularity with the 'in' crowd.
Now, there are many prog bands out there (name XXXX) that create a stir within prog circles that I personally feel is exactly what Steven is referring TFK to be, they are scarecrows, they scare people away because they are not close to as inventive, poetic, expressive or original as Yes, ELP, Floyd or Crimson or simply DULL. Many a hype is written in advertisements or articles in the prog-press or mailing lists all over about those bands but I still find them VERY poor and sometimes unlistenable. BUT I would never go as far as hang them out in an interview (at least I hope I haven't ).
For me it's quite simple, if a band like Transatlantic sell 65,000 copies of a CD (on an independent label) it simply means that the band IS popular, VERY popular...
No, no, NO! Popularity and creativity are entirely different matters. An entirely stagnant, repetitive band can produce stagnant, repetitive music which will still sell well to the established fanbase and those wishing to recapture a lost youth. That the niche occupied by Transatlantic and TFK is relatively lucrative isn't relevant. It's still an inward-looking, closed system of which I, and seemingly SW, can have limited respect.
... and that MANY people do NOT consider them to be the DEATH of prog, rather the 'new life' or 'afterlife' or whatever, but many people did rejoice. It WAS a phenomenon. If Steven Wilson feel the opposite... we can't do much about that, but he's wrong.
It's impossible for an opinion
to be right or wrong.
Flowerkings is a band that started around the same time as PT and he knows very well of us and know we're both popular and considered along with Spocks [Beard], PT to be the new wave of prog. So after all there may be some truth to that he try to kill his competition.
Rubbish. TFK is an overt return to 70s standards and style; there's nothing 'new wave' about it. Stolt presumably means TFK represents a new resurgence of popularity, which itself is very debatable – modern, popular progressive music (e.g. The Mars Volta) is little like 70s prog.
That Porcupine Tree and TFK might be competitors is laughable. They're simply not on the same racetrack.
I may be wrong but I seem to remember that Steven Wilson's name came up as a possible candidate to mix the second Transatlantic album, but at the time someone of us had heard that he didn't like us at all, so it's not the first time he make similar statements, this is his firm belief, not something thoughtless he happen to say....
[Update 26/10/06: I've been directed to a post SW made in a Progarchives forum on 8 August this year, in which he reported that he'd apologised to Stolt for the personal nature of his criticism, whilst defending his right to dislike the music, and to say so publicly.]
In fact I spoke with Roine about this, and apologised - my comments about these bands was borne out of frustration with certain jounalists trying to lump us into some kind of "neo-prog" movement. And frankly it's just not my kind of music. Of course it's true that it's an ugly thing to criticise other musicians, but I don't think there's any musician on the planet that has not at some time been critical of their contempories in the press (including Mikael A). Many times I have had to eat humble pie with the guys from Dream Theater because I've had to come clean in the press and say I don't really dig their music (and these guys are my friends!)
29 November, 2005
Getting ready to be sold
I'm hoping this won't generate as many follow-up postings as the fragmented 'Deadwing' release (check the archive for what I mean), but Porcupinetree.com has announced the forthcoming reissue of 'Stupid Dream'.
This 1999 album and 2000's 'Lightbulb Sun' were deleted when Porcupine Tree left Snapper/Delerium in 2002, and their reissue on the Lava (Atlantic) label has been (over)long-awaited. The limited supply and increasing demand have boosted prices at eBay to ludicrous levels, in turn encouraging counterfeiting.
Though no date has been stated for the 'Stupid Dream' release, it'll be in early 2006 [Update 26/04/06: the release date is 15/05/06], and will contain two discs: a remixed and remastered stereo CD and a 5.1 surround sound DVD-A. The latter will feature bonus tracks: 'Ambulance Chasing' and the full-length (14-min) 'Even Less', both remixed to 5.1, plus the 'Piano Lessons' video and a photo gallery. It's understood that SW wants to replace the existing cover image, though that's unconfirmed and few fans think it's necessary.
This edition will be exclusive to P-Tree's own web store at Burning Shed, but a single-disc CD will also receive a general retail release at a later date.
[Update 11/7/06: Contrary to the original plan, the two-disc edition will be available via normal retail outlets for a limited period.]
So, as I mentioned in a different context yesterday, don't bother hunting eBay for scarce and frighteningly overpriced copies of the 1999 edition, wait that little longer for an improved version at a sensible price.
All this material has been previously released in some form. Anyone who already has 'Stupid Dream', 'Recordings' and either the February 2001 'Lightbulb Sun' special edition or the 'Stranger By The Minute' CD single, and who isn't interested in surround sound won't be offered anything new. However, that's being too negative; the main point is that 'Stupid Dream' will be back on sale and profiteers will be denied an income.
No news about 'Lightbulb Sun', though the same sort of reissue can be expected, and it's thought it'll happen some time in 2006 (but don't hold me to that). [Update 19/04/08: It was finally released in April 2008!]
9 August, 2005
It's about time
The record company's marketing seems to be working¹ at long last: Porcupine Tree's 'Deadwing' has been shortlisted for 'best album of 2005' in the Classic Rock reader awards, alongside Robert Plant, Audioslave, Foo Fighters, and Alter Bridge.
I certainly wouldn't advocate vote stuffing, and I won't be voting myself (I refuse to provide my contact details², just to be exploited by marketers), but if anyone's interested, votes are being accepted until 21 September, by SMS and via the magazine's website.
¹: yes, 'Deadwing' was shortlisted due to public votes, but I'm certain record company pressure 'earned' it a place on the longlist.
²: yes, I could submit false details, but that's not the point – they shouldn't be demanded anyway.
11 July, 2005
Just passing on the announcement that the fourth issue of 'Carbon Nation', the Porcupine Tree (paper) fanzine, is now available. Follow that link for ordering details.
- Blackfield US acoustic tour reviews & photos
- PT 'Deadwing' UK tour reports and photos
- Exclusive in-depth interviews with Steven Wilson & John Wesley
- Review of John Wesley's 'Shiver' album
- News nuggets and winners of the Blackfield competition
By definition, all of this is exclusive content – you won't have seen any of it online.
Simon is also offering a discount on the first three issues, for those wishing to catch up.
I'd certainly recommend Carbon Nation as far more substantive than the typical band fanzine, and if copies take on the same collectible status as anything else P-Tree related, this may be your best chance to get them at less than premium eBay rates!
21 May, 2005
Arriving Somewhere... HERE!
Following delays for which the band apologised (a distributor let them down), my copy of the special edition of Porcupine Tree's 'Deadwing' arrived this morning, so, a mere seven weeks after the CD was released in the UK, and three weeks after the European tour ended, I'm currently hearing the album for the very first time.
To restate a couple of points which seem to have evaded other purchasers and led to unfair, downright vicious criticism of the band: the Special Edition comprises:
- the US version of the CD (i.e. with the re-recorded 'Shesmovedon' as a bonus)
- the DTS 5.1 surround sound mix of the same tracks on a DVD. This has been described as 'DVD-V' to distinguish it from the DVD-A edition of the album, which is an entirely different release, from a different company. The Special Edition DVD contains no bonus material, and no videos.
presented in a 72-page hardback book. Note that 90% of the book's content is artwork, in the style of the Deadwing promo website*. Most (not all) song lyrics are provided (unlike in the standard, retail edition of the CD), and album credits, but that's it – some fans wishfully elevated fantasies to 'fact' in expecting an extensive band biography (sensu 'Stars Die'
) or the complete film script, but there was never an official suggestion that they'd be present, and they're not.
So long as you're clear that the Special Edition is the standard CD in enhanced packaging with an opportunity to hear the same material in surround sound, for a lower price than a feature film DVD (I paid £18.80 + £2.06 P&P; the standard retail CD costs £9.99), but not an all-in 'Ultimate Edition' (I've previously explained why), I'd say this is the one to go for, unless you've already bought the standard retail CD and plan to buy the DVD-A (which contains several bonus tracks and videos). That'd be needless duplication, and explains why it's taken so long for me to hear the latest album from probably my favourite band – I like them, but didn't want to buy the same thing twice.
*: [Update 22/10/07: the Deadwing.com domain expired on 23/09/07.]
15 April, 2005
The following comment on an earlier posting was received last night:
"I would just like to say that I am getting fed up of PT releasing various permutations of the current and back catalogue just to rake the pennies in. Are you?
I think that as being a fan for over twelve years, myself and all the other long term fans deserve better."
To answer your question: absolutely not.
This topic has arisen at the Porcupine Tree Forum so often that responses tend to begin "Stop whinging...", and I'd forgotten I hadn't discussed it here.
Firstly, your slightly insulting ascription of motive is simply bogus. The release of multiple versions isn't about fleecing fans for every penny – it's not solely about making money. P-Tree, alongside all of Steven Wilson's projects, has always been a band indulging collectors: those who, like SW himself, love to spend hours in record stores (off- and online) hunting down that elusive yellow vinyl edition of 'Yellow Hedgerow Dreamscape' (actually, black vinyl's rarer), or whatever. Such editions have been released for as long as SW has been making his music available for sale. In many cases, releases have been made pretty much 'at cost', so allegations of exploitation are over-emotive rubbish.
The essential point is that no-one is obliged to buy anything. If you're a collector, and you like that sort of thing, it's available. If you aren't, you can simply ignore the 'superfluous' ones. I do. My only complaint is when music is only made available on very limited editions, such as SW's 'UEM v.1'. So long as the music is available to as many people as want it, extra releases duplicating the same content in different formats don't matter to me. A new one could be released every week, for all I care.
I presume this comment was triggered by the numerous versions of 'Deadwing' that have been and are to be released. At the latest count, there'll be a CD, a CD+DVD (not DVD-A), a DVD-A, a CD single (Europe-only), a download single (USA only), a LP on black vinyl and an LP on red vinyl. However, as SW has personally confirmed, those who are only concerned about obtaining all the music (album tracks plus bonus material) only 'need' to buy the CD, the CD single and the DVD-A.
The US bonus track, 'She's Moved On', is merely a re-recording of a song from 2000 with no relevance to the new album, so wasn't included on the European CD in accordance with SW's wishes. If anyone absolutely has to have it, a) while you're getting it, get a life, too, and b) it can be downloaded from numerous online retailers for under £1.
There's no need to buy either CD-only edition, in fact – with a little patience, the special edition (the CD in improved packaging, with a 'free' DVD) includes the same content. I've no sympathy for anyone buying the European CD on 28 March/4 April then wanting the special edition on 26 April. It was well known that there would be a special edition, which would incorporate the same material, so why not wait? The only people losing out in this situation are the "gottahaveitNOW!" obsessives.
Some have suggested that the variants should be combined into one, definitive edition containing everything, and have 'strongly' (i.e. presumptuously and rudely) complained that the special edition isn't it. Quite apart from this contradicting SW's preferred ethos, something many complainants don't realise is that some releases are from entirely different companies, and there's simply no possibility of crossover. See my earlier posting.
SW is a perfectionist, and revisionist. If he wants to go back to early albums and replace the programmed drums, or finally achieve a tracklist he'd always intended but which was technically problematic in the early 90s, or widen the availability of previously rare recordings (largely to beat eBay pirates), that's his prerogative. I repeat: if you don't want to buy something, you don't have to. A childish attitude of "Gotta have 'em all! Want! Want! Waa!" isn't SW's problem.
Finally, I totally disagree that long-term fans 'deserve' anything whatsoever. There are no debts involved, no gratitude owed.
8 April, 2005
Deadwing Special Edition
I don't plan to merely republish an announcement made at Porcupinetree.com, but to summarise, the special limited edition of the band's album 'Deadwing' (the stereo mix on CD and 5.1 mix on DVD*, in a 72-page hardback book), is now available for preorder, solely from the band's website.
It will not be available from any other retailer (presumably not even Burning Shed). Orders are being taken by a US company, so payment options are limited (i.e. I can't use my UK-based debit card). However, European orders will be despatched from the UK, to minimise shipping costs. [Update 21/5/05: This proved complicated. Burning Shed will have it shortly, and non-US purchasers are advised to wait for that.]
More information and secure ordering are via PorcupineTree.com.
Note that the special edition CD contains the European tracklisting of 'Deadwing' (i.e. the US bonus track, 'Shesmovedon' is not included) [Update 6/5/05: Wrong. The US tracklist, with 'Shesmovedon' has been used], and the DVD has the same tracklist . The bonus tracks previously announced as present on the DVD-A are exclusive to that edition, and are not on this one. To be absolutely clear: there is no additional music on the special edition, whatsoever.
This has attracted considerable criticism from those who rather wishfully expected the special edition to compile all bonus material from the various editions into one 'ultimate' 'Deadwing'. However, that's simply impossible, and accusations that the record company have released multiple versions merely to exploit the fans are unfair.
- The record company, Lava, released one edition in the US, with a bonus track, and one in Europe, without.
The bonus track is merely a re-recording of an existing song from 'Lightbulb Sun', included to advertise the forthcoming Lava reissues of '
Stupid Dream' and 'Lightbulb Sun' and bearing no relevance to the 'Deadwing' material, so I'm rather glad it's not on the special edition. [Update 6/5/05: It is.] I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be on the standard US edition either, if it had been Steven Wilson's decision.
- The DVD-A was produced by DTS, an entirely different company to Lava.
Mixing and mastering the 5.1 surround sound version was very expensive, and DTS understandably want to maximise the chances of recouping their costs, so obtained an exclusive licence to certain bonus tracks; those tracks are simply unavailable to anyone else, even the band and Lava, for inclusion on any other release.
- The special edition is being released independently by the band, not the record company, nor DTS.
It's known that SW doesn't like bonus tracks to be tacked onto his albums – each is a complete composition, not just a bunch of songs. The European editions of 'In Absentia' and 'Blackfield' each included a second CD of bonus material for this reason, specifically separating the main albums from bonuses. That doesn't preclude doing the same thing for the special edition of 'Deadwing', but as I said, 'Shesmovedon' is irrelevant to 'Deadwing' and the DVD-A bonuses are exclusive to DTS, unavailable for inclusion in the band's own independent edition.
One thing critics haven't acknowledged is how astonishingly cheap (heh... I meant inexpensive, but some might use the other definition) the special edition is, especially by UK standards. The standard 'Deadwing' CD is £9.99 at Amazon.co.uk, which translates to $18.84 for the CD alone, in a jewel case with minimalist sleeve notes. For an extra £5.92 (rather less than the 'Lazarus' single), one can have full sleeve notes, with a 5.1 surround sound mix of the album thrown in, in superior packaging.
In very real terms, this is the standard CD with bonus material (a different format of the same tracks, not different tracks). It's cheaper than, say, the standard (jewel case) double-disc edition of Marillion's 'Marbles' and only about 60% of the price of the special edition hardback 'Marbles'.
So, it's not the ultimate 'all-in' edition fans dreamt of, but it's better value than the CD alone, which is enough for me. The only people who lose out are the "gottahaveitNOW" types who bought the standard CD edition. I'm happy to wait.
*: that's DVD-V. As stated above, the DVD-A edition announced earlier is an entirely different release, from DTS on 10 May.
26 March, 2005
Lyrics arriving somewhere - but not here
The first few European Porcupine Tree fans are starting to receive their copies of 'Deadwing' and finding that the CD booklet doesn't include a listing of song lyrics. I knew that before being told, because there's been a slight surge in the number of people reaching the Ministry via lyrics searches!
Quick, straight answer: I don't have the lyrics, and have no intention of republishing them here when I do get the album myself. This simply isn't a lyrics site. Try Porcupinetree.com, though that doesn't have them either, yet.
21 March, 2005
Deadwing delayed again
I don't know about you, but my repeated mentions of the release of Porcupine Tree's forthcoming album 'Deadwing' are boring me! It's just that the details keep changing, and since I've provided information before, I feel obliged to alert people to amendments.
The UK distributor has set up a 'street team', using the fans as unpaid promoters. I don't especially object to fans being asked to contact radio stations, hand out flyers and post, er, posters, though these are activities I think the record company ought to do themselves. An aspect I do find objectionable is that in order to join the street team one has to provide the record company with full contact details – not just e-mail address but also postal address and both home & mobile phone numbers. If this wasn't a clear enough hint about their intentions, the sign-up page specifies that by joining, one gives the company express permission to contact one about any other bands in future. One of the required duties of street team members is to attend concerts and collect the contact details of audience members, again so that the record company can spam P-Tree fans about other bands.
Needless to say, I'm not participating. I'm happy to help spread the word about P-Tree via this and other sites, without having been asked to do so, but I have no interest in doing the same for other bands which just happen to be on the the same label, and the record company can go **** itself, for all I care.
My evident regard for that company has declined further with the announcement, solely to the street team, that the UK release date of 'Deadwing' will be postponed for a further week, as unexpected demand (it's currently no.7 on Amazon UK's pre-orders chart, for example) means the company want to manufacture more CDs. The revised release date is apparently 4 April. This information comes directly from the record company's street team coordinator, so should be definitive, even though other sources haven't confirmed it.
That there's demand for the album is good news, and I agree that it's more likely that one consolidated release will have an impact on the charts than if shops run out of stock, but this really ought to have been foreseen, and it means the band will be starting their tour before the album is available. Many fans are annoyed, some have resigned from the street team in protest (consequently, the last-minute promo work won't be done) and some have resigned having realised that they, not the record company, are the ones 'on the front line' who'll receive criticism from fans at the concerts.
The band's official site posted a statement from the record company last night which explained the situation then went on to say that Amazon UK would preferentially receive those copies which are already manufactured, so that pre-orders from that web store would still make the 28 March date, though other retailers would have to wait. The intention was to give those fans planning to attend the first four concerts of the tour (i.e. before 4 April) a chance to hear the album beforehand.
However, the announcement evidently caused a rush on Amazon. 'Deadwing' is now no.2 on the pre-orders chart, and Sales Rank no. 26 (I suspect that might be of all items Amazon sells, not just CDs), and the listed release date has been modified to 4 April, strongly suggesting that the additionally allocated stock has gone too, and that the statement at Porcupinetree.com is already out-of-date – if you haven't already pre-ordered, you're too late to qualify for the 28 March despatch.
One other clarification was that this seems to be UK-only, and the release date in other European nations remains 28 March.
My own view is that this generates even more of a mess. One cohesive assault on the album chart, a week later than expected, makes some sense, but this Amazon initiative will split the sales figures over two weeks, dividing the chart impact.
14 March, 2005
Deadwing DVD-A - at last: news!
The official Porcupine Tree website has finally revealed a little more about the DVD-A version of their forthcoming (on CD: Europe: 28 March, N.America: 26 April) album 'Deadwing'.
Firstly, the fact that it's a DVD-A rather than 'merely' a DVD (i.e. video-grade resolution) is a bit of a triumph, and well-connected fans are to be credited with influencing that decision.
The important part: the content:
- The album will be in DTS 5.1 surround sound, mixed in collaboration with Grammy award winning producer Elliot Scheiner (as was 'In Absentia'). It's not stated, but I presume that, like the 'In Absentia' DVD-A, the disc will contain a high-res 5.1 mix only usable on a dedicated DVD audio player, a 'standard' 5.1 mix for any DVD player, and a basic stereo mix.
- There will be bonus video material and photo galleries; I can only speculate, but it seems credible that material from the 'Deadwing' promo site* might be included.
- Most excitingly, there will be three bonus tracks (in surround sound): 'Mother And Child Divided', 'Revenant' (already familiar to the hardcore as the background music of the promo site), and 'Half Light'. These are billed as 'exclusive', but 'Half Light' appears (in stereo) on the German single of 'Lazarus'.
The original plan for the CD and DVD-A to be released simultaneously, and hence for a limited edition version (combining the two into one package) to be made available on or around the same release date, seems to have been abandoned (definitely in the case of Europe).
On Monday, I went on to say:
One source close to the band/label seems certain that preorders for the limited edition should open imminently ("by the end of this week"), for despatch on 19 April, the US release date of the CD. However, without mentioning the limited edition at all, the band's own website states that the DVD-A will be released by DTS on 10 May.
To clarify that, the rumoured [Update 8/4/05: confirmed.] plan is for the Special Ltd. Edition to comprise the stereo mix on a CD and the 5.1 mix on a DVD (that's a standard DVD, aka DVD-V, not a DVD-A), both packaged within a ~72-page book. This is expected to be released at the same time as the standard US CD edition.
In addition, there will be a DVD-A (not a standard DVD), as described above, released later by DTS.
It's always been presumed that the Special Edition would include the DVD-A, which has obviously caused confusion.
To add a little more confusion, it's not known whether the advertised bonus tracks on the DVD-A will also be on the Limited Edition's DVD. It may be that the DVD is solely intended to convey the 5.1 mix of the album itself, without any extras.
[Update 30/03/05: The US release date of the CD has finally been confirmed as 26 April, not 19 April (I've amended the first paragraph of this entry). The announcement also says that the hardback book edition (no mention of contents) will be out on the same day. Preorders aren't mentioned.]
*: [Update 22/10/07: The 'Deadwing.com' domain expired on 23/09/07.]
11 March, 2005
Attempting to clarify something mentioned in discussion at the Porcupine Tree Forum, I discovered that Amazon UK is offering the two-CD (album plus bonus disc) Europe-only release of 'In Absentia' for £5.97 - that's under half the price of the standard, single-disc edition (£12.99).
If you've been curious about this obscure band I keep mentioning, this is a good opportunity to sample their recent (2002) output, in time to get enthused about the new album, 'Deadwing', out on 28 March (26 April in N.America).
2 March, 2005
New P-Tree promo microsite
In addition to the main Porcupine Tree website and the 'Deadwing' promo site* (which is a little cryptic, admittedly, and more atmospheric than informative), a new microsite has been released by the US record company/distributor to advertise P-Tree's forthcoming (eventually...) album, 'Deadwing'.
The microsite offers more to those presently unfamiliar with the band &ndash a brief bio, tourdates, the US single ('Shallow') as a background and download (not free!), plus various US-centric resources.
It also offers links to the two main discussion groups, Dark Matter and the independent Porcupine Tree Forum, but provides a defunct address for the latter &ndash use the link above, instead.
Another slight flaw is that it's rather big, and consequently slow-loading on anything but a fast broadband connection &ndash not exactly inviting for those who might only have a casual interest in the band i.e. presumably the target audience.
*: [Update 22/10/07: The 'Deadwing.com' domain expired on 23/09/07.]
28 February, 2005
Drone working again
Several months ago (Oct-November?), Steven Wilson released a new piece as part of his Bass Communion solo project. The 20-minute 'Droneworks 6' was the best since 1999's Bass Communion II, in my opinion. It was released on the independent Twenty Hertz label, but for unspecified reasons was withdrawn in December, with a promise that it would return on SW's own Headphone Dust label in 2005.
That has now happened. From March, it's available again officially, on a 'produced-on-demand' basis (i.e. not a limited edition, surprisingly!), exclusively from Headphone Dust.
24 February, 2005
Blackfield, the collaboration between Steven Wilson and Aviv Geffen, have been obliged to abbreviate their planned US tour in March. Shows featuring the five-member electric band have had to be replaced with a smaller number of concerts given by just SW and Geffen, playing acoustically. The reason? Unexpected overwhelming difficulties in obtaining visas to work in the USA. The band have said that if they'd known, they wouldn't have booked a tour at all.
I've posted about this issue of visas for musicians before, but coincidentally, the Guardian covered it too last Wednesday.
One slight compensation is that the difficulties may be resolved in time for Blackfield to support SW's other band, Porcupine Tree at a few shows on their tour in May/June. Sources close to Porcupine Tree have stressed that this would only be at specific concerts, and that Blackfield wouldn't be supporting the whole tour.
Credit is due to them for not being deterred by the hostility of the US immigration authorities. Many others would have - understandably - decided not to bother with 'Fortress USA' again.
Incidents like this can only reflect badly on the USA. I know that I regarded the country... less than favourably until I visited New York last Oct-November and gained a little more appreciation of something I already knew: that the US people aren't the US government, and the former shouldn't be penalised for the activities of the latter. Yet from here in the UK, we only get to see the ugly external face, which is a shame.
22 February, 2005
Deadwing Ltd. Ed. arriving later than expected
The forthcoming album 'Deadwing', from Porcupine Tree, is to be released as a standard CD, as a 5.1 surround sound DVD-A, and as a limited edition combining the CD and DVD-A with 'enhanced' packaging. That much has been known for several months, but earlier announcements that the limited edition would be available by preorder implied that it would either be out before the retail edition (improbable, but the fans got a little over-excited) or despatched to reach people on the release date of the retail edition.
However, there have been several changes since that announcement.
Firstly, the simultaneous global release was abandoned. After the split release of the previous album, 'In Absentia' (Sept. 2002 in N.America, Jan. 2003 in Europe), it was announced that that wouldn't happen again. Well, it has.
'Deadwing' would still be released in Europe on the date previously mentioned, 21 March, but N.America would have to wait a further 2-3 weeks (a precise revised US release date has yet to be announced at all [Update 02/03/05: 19 April] [Update 30/03/05: 26 April]).
Then last week it was casually mentioned on a record company forum - not the official Porcupine Tree website (which the record company has taken to calling 'the US site') - that the European date has been moved to 28 March. No explanation or apology; in fact the implication was that this had always been the planned date.
The latest non-announcement, this time revealed by a fan with 'insider' contacts, is that the limited edition will be released to coincide with the N.American retail edition, 2-3 weeks after the retail edition has already been on sale in Europe. Note that this has yet to be definitively confirmed. [Update 02/03/05: And is looking unlikely; current best guess is some time in May.] [Update 30/03/05: No, it will coincide with the US CD release, on 28 April.]
Quite apart from the disappointment, fans are annoyed by the apparently exploitative tactic. 'Hard core' fans (including those in N.America) will want a copy of the album at their earliest opportunity, so will probably buy the European retail edition, only to buy the limited edition too, a few weeks later.
This might seem a good idea to the record company accountants, but I wonder whether they've considered the implications for chart position. If US fans buy the European edition, that'll harm US sales and reduce the band's apparent popularity there. Similarly, immediate European sales will be reduced by those, including me, who will be waiting until the release of the limited edition before buying anything.
Yes, I'm moaning, but I just want to make it clear that my criticism is of the record company, not the band, who are totally at the mercy of the distributors and seem to be about as well-informed about release dates as the fans.
I'm very disappointed by the contempt of the band and fans exhibited by the record company, but not exactly surprised. To a multinational corporation, CDs are merely products; silver pills to the masses, and the name on the label isn't particularly relevant. If this one doesn't sell, too bad, but something else by some other band will be out a week later, so P-Tree or the band's fans barely matter.
Oh; to answer the question which probably brought you here: at the time of writing, pre-orders are not yet being taken for the limited edition of 'Deadwing'. That process is expected to begin in early March. Don't worry, I'll mention it here as soon as I hear more, though personally I won't trust any official announcements until the item arrives in my hand.
[Update 30/03/05: The US release date of the CD has finally been confirmed as 26 April. The announcement also says that the hardback book edition (no mention of contents) will be out on the same day. Preorders aren't mentioned.]
11 February, 2005
Porcupine Tree singles availability
There seems to be some confusion about the singles supporting the forthcoming Porcupine Tree album, 'Deadwing'. If I post a summary of the situation (as currently understood) here, presumably Google will pick it up ;)
'Shallow' has already been released as a one-track download single in the USA. It doesn't look as if it will be available for download outside the USA.
Radio stations have received the song as a one-track promo CD, but it's not going to be available to buy. At this time, there is not going to be any CD single for sale in the USA. Period.
'Lazarus' will be released as a CD-only (not download) single with non-album bonus tracks in Germany and Poland only. The CD single will not be available in the UK.
Let me restate that to remove any ambiguity: NO UK SINGLE, in any format. None. Full stop.
There is no confirmation that 'Lazarus' will be a download single anywhere, and if it is, it's most likely to be a one-track download. To be absolutely clear: if you want 'So Called Friend' and 'Half-light' you will have to buy the CD single, and only from Germany or Poland.
The extra tracks won't be on the US CD single of 'Shallow' because:
i) there isn't going to be a retail CD single of 'Shallow', anywhere, and:
ii) there isn't going to be a CD single in the USA, at all, neither 'Shallow' nor any other song.
All subject to change, of course, but there hasn't even been a suggestion that it will. Some fans have been seeking "a shimmer of hope" in the precise phrasing of official announcements, but it simply isn't there, however the words are stretched. Don't worry: if there are changes, I'll pass them on!
1 February, 2005
Not so shallow, after all
I wonder if fan feedback has had an effect.
'Shallow' isn't going to be the CD single from Porcupine Tree's forthcoming album 'Deadwing'. Porcupinetree.com has announced that a different track, 'Lazarus' will be released by Warners Germany on 7 March [Update 15/02/05: 14 March], 'backed' with two non-album tracks, 'So Called Friend' and 'Half-light'.
The statement seems to say this will be a Germany-only release, with "no plans for a commercially available single in any other country, although this may change."
29 January, 2005
It hasn't been confirmed officially, but it's looking like Porcupine Tree's new album, 'Deadwing' will be delayed for a month in N.America. The revised release date seems to be 26 April. The previously announced UK/European release date of 21 March remains unchanged.
[Update 21/02/05: Nope. The UK/European release date has been moved to 28 March. The N.American date remains unannounced, but should be 2-3 weeks after Europe.]
[Update 02/03/05: The US release date has been announced as 19 April. Let's see if it actually happens....]
[Update 30/03/05: The US release date of the CD has been revised back to 26 April.]
29 January, 2005
Slightly contradicting an earlier statement that it would only be a radio promo in the USA, unavailable for retail there, Porcupine Tree's single, 'Shallow' is now available to download from US online retailers Sony Connect*, BuyMusic and Napster. It'll also be on iTunes shortly.
Note that this is the radio edit, with a running time of 3:34. When 'Shallow' was leaked' by a US radio station a couple of weeks ago, it was heavily criticised by existing fans, but some suggested that the full, album version would be better than that radio edit. However, it had a running time of 4:15 - I presume that was the album track.
*: the Sony Connect website is IE only. Firefox's User Agent Switcher fools it perfectly, but at least so far as I'm concerned, that unnecessary barrier disqualifies Sony, and I'd buy elsewhere.
13 January, 2005
'Shallow', well, is
Though we still have a while to wait until the 21 March release of the new Porcupine Tree album, 'Deadwing' (the special edition will be available by preorder before that date), their record label included one track, 'Shallow', on a sampler CD issued to radio stations. Possibly breaking some sort of embargo, WWUH FM, in Hartford, Ct., broadcasted it last Sunday. P-Tree fans being what they are, the simultaneous web feed was recorded and made available unofficially, so the 'hardcore' fans (for once, I'm including myself in that clique) have already heard it. I won't offer a link, as the download has already been removed, understandably.
Also understandably, the Dark Matter Yahoo! Group, frequented by that 'hardcore' and those close to the band (promoters, instrument techs, etc.), has seen a lot of discussion of the track. It'd be a fair summary to say that the majority view is negative, and even those stating more favourable views are hoping it's unrepresentative of the album as a whole. 'Shallow' is to be released as the first single (as a promo available to radio stations in the US, but only available for sale in Europe, with non-album bonus tracks), so maybe they've deliberately chosen something instantly accessible and commercial.
[Update 29/01/05: it is available for sale in the USA, after all, as a download single]
[Update 31/01/05: Wahey! 'Shallow' isn't going to be the CD single!]
I'm afraid I'm underimpressed too. It's not awful - actually it's okay; pretty good at very high volume, really - it's just so, well, mainstream. At least for the first 20-30 seconds (which matter!), it really could be anyone. Nothing at all stands out as special, or grabs me. As was said at Dark Matter:
If Shallow came from a band I didn't know I wouldn't be making an effort to hear more.
Hence, I think I'm saying this is a poor choice for a single, if the purpose of a single is to showcase the range and typical sound of a band, and draw potential fans into the album and back catalogue.
I wouldn't say 'Shallow'
is 'bad'; I think it'll be fine in the context of the album, but not in isolation or as a highlight of the album - I hope....
So, when the single does come out and receives airplay, if you've never heard Porcupine Tree before, please don't base your entire opinion on this one song - they're better than this!
[Update 18/02/05: Brief samples of the German single, 'Lazarus' are now available in various websites. The fan response to this one has been entirely different: universally positive. That's better!]
15 December, 2004
Deadwing not left wing
Since it was confirmed that the forthcoming (retail edition: 21 March, 2005; special edition: earlier, by pre-order) Porcupine Tree album will be entitled 'Deadwing', and that it seems the probable cover image will be an eagle with a broken wing (its right), there has been bizarre speculation that the album will be an attack on the US political right wing i.e. the Republican party and Bush presidency.
There is absolutely no reason to believe this. In interviews dating back at least a year, Steven Wilson (SW) has said the content will be material associated with a film he'd like to make/collaborate on, with the stated theme of a ghost story. The track titles of the album have been well-known since June (see the 'news' page at Porcupinetree.com) and suggest no apparent political references.
Without wishing to appear rude, this presumption seems to display considerable self-obsession on the part of some Americans. Why would a British songwriter, in a British band, producing music aimed at a global audience (okay, primarily European/N.American, but not primarily US, anyway), dedicate an album to commentary on a foreign regime? If there are multiple possible interpretations of an album title, why choose an improbable one?
I suppose people like to think the world revolves around them. The USA is indeed a dominant participant in global affairs, but not that dominant. For SW to "jump on a US-bashing bandwagon" (which confuses criticism of Bush with criticism of the USA as a whole, but that's a different topic) would imply he, or any other Brit, cares enough to invest that sort of time, effort and creative energy on the government of a nation thousands of miles away.
14 December, 2004
Deadwing site open properly
The working version discovered by fans last week has been replaced by the real thing: a promotional website for the forthcoming Porcupine Tree album 'Deadwing' *.
The format is the same as the earlier version, with the same accompanying music loop, though the initial image on the jigsaw is different (the site is to expand and reveal more audio, video and other media relating to the album over the coming months, so maybe the other one will appear later in the promo campaign).
Again, it matters where on the screen the jigsaw is assembled. Try moving the second-from-left piece on the bottom row - just click and let go, and it'll jump slightly upwards into the correct position. Assemble the rest of the puzzle around that one, the image will animate, and a menu of further links becomes available, though currently only one (and 'back') is active, showing low-fi footage of the recording sessions. Presumably further menu items will be activated as the album release date approaches.
Speaking of which, the official release date is 21 March, 2005. Unless plans have been changed [update 29/01/05: they have], that'll be a simultaneous global release, both in standard CD and in 5.1 surround sound DVD-A formats. However, watch for the special edition (apparently to be the stereo and 5.1 mixes (hopefully two discs, not 1 dual-format disc!) in a hardback book featuring extra artwork), which will be made available for pre-order. And I do mean watch for it - SW likes to limit numbers, and they sell out rapidly!
*: [Update 22/10/07: S'gone: the 'Deadwing.com' domain expired on 23/09/07.]
8 December, 2004
Deadwing arriving (somewhere but not here)
The more... avid fans of Porcupine Tree have discovered a teaser website [link removed - see update] promoting the forthcoming Porcupine Tree album, which will indeed have the expected title of 'Deadwing', it seems, rather than the fans' preferred 'Arriving Somewhere But Not Here'.
That link is [was] to a page at westsidecreative.com, not the official Porcupine Tree site, which seemed a little worrying - might it be a hoax? However, the Westside Creative home page explains it's work in progress, which would logically be expected to be hosted by the developers.
The audio loop certainly sounds like P-Tree, and the graphics look like Lasse Hoile's.
The format of the teaser is a jigsaw rendered in Flash. Note that if one assembles the jigsaw on the faint line just above the title text, the pieces snap into alignment and the completed image animates.
It's almost impossible to comment on a single, short audio sample taken out of context, so I won't.
[Update 09/12/04: It's not entirely surprising that this content was withdrawn a short time after the band became aware that the fans had found it. I've removed the link, as it's dead.]
[Update 14/12/04: The finalised version is now available at its own permanent address. More comments here.]
*: [Update 22/10/07: S'gone: the domain expired on 23/09/07.]
10 September, 2004
Special T-shirts have been made for tonight's Blackfield show in London, featuring the album cover artwork on a sewn patch stitched onto a plain black shirt. Last night, Steven Wilson HQ announced that a few are also available to buy by mail order. See that site for ordering details (it's PayPal only).
I'm never quite sure whether it's worthwhile to repost such news. Firstly the number of readers who might be interested is regretably small, and secondly those who would be interested probably visit SW HQ anyway. Any thoughts?
[Update 14/09/04: My T-shirt arrived today. The album cover image presumably prints better onto a white T-shirt, as that's what was done, then the square of white material was stitched onto a black shirt. 'Patch' implies finished edges, but they're not, and I suspect they're going to fray. That's okay as some sort of artistic statement, but not ideal for the longevity of the shirt!]
1 September, 2004
Regular readers of the blog might have caught occasional offhand mentions of a rather good band called Blackfield. Some might have followed my recommendations and are now enjoying the 2-CD international edition of the album (not the 'inferior' (SW's words!) single disc Israeli domestic release).
Others might be curious (if you regularly read the blog, you're probably downright odd, never mind curious). Try the audio and video samples at the official Blackfield website.
Alternatively, have a go at winning a copy. To celebrate the release of the debut, self-titled album, the Ministry, in association with Snapper Music, is hosting a prize draw for copies, including limited-edition vinyl. [NOW CLOSED]
31 August, 2004
New Porcupine Tree album on the horizon
A few days after it was announced at the official web site, I'm pleased to pass on the news that recording and mixing of the next Porcupine Tree album (as yet untitled) is finished!
Selecting 10-11 of the 14 songs recorded is the next stage, followed by sequencing and mastering in time for a worldwide release in January 2005.
A 5.1 mix ought to be available by the same date.
27 August, 2004
Review: Blackfield - international edition (Blackfield, 2004)
I reviewed the album itself in February when it was first released in Israel, so won't discuss it again here, other than to highly recommend it!
Those familiar with SW's work on Porcupine Tree's 'Lightbulb Sun' (but not really 'In Absentia') will notice obvious similarities, though Aviv Geffen's (remarkably similar) style has resulted in drastically shorter, more radio-friendly songs.
The packaging is a digipack with a plastic tray for one disc and a pocket in one arm of the 'gatefold' for the album booklet, which provides lyrics, artist and recording details for the main album alone. I don't always like digipacks, as cardboard is more prone to damage than plastic (and interchangeable) jewel cases, but this is a good example, with a plastic disc holder imparting rigidity to the whole package, and Lasse Hoile artwork throughout (with layout by Carl Glover, another of my favourite designers).
The bonus disc isn't mentioned at all, and doesn't have a tray of it's own. Instead, it is simply slipped into the booklet, unprotected, as if as an afterthought. This has attracted criticism from fans.
Some have argued that this allows the same packaging to be used later for a 'standard' release without the bonus disc, but I'm unconvinced.
Given modern printing technology, the omission of bonus track details from the digipack and booklet can't really be justified on grounds of cost alone; two print runs of, say, 1,000 of version 'a' (with bonus) and 9,000 of version 'b' (no bonus) can't be vastly more expensive than a single 10,000-unit run of version 'b'.
Even a plain card inner sleeve, like that used in the Bass Communion 'Ghosts On Magnetic Tape' album would have seemed less cursory.
It just seems a pity for otherwise excellent packaging to have such a half-hearted finish; the slight extra effort would have been appreciated
Another common criticism is that there are two discs at all, when the main album is only 36:51 minutes long and the bonus tracks account for a further 14:41 (10:40 audio plus 4:01 video). I don't really agree; it's about disparate compositions, not how much one can pack into the disc. The main album is one unit, independent of the bonus tracks, and I'm pleased they were kept separate.
I must stress that the packaging offers no information at all about the contents of the bonus disc, not even track titles. All credits are printed on the disc itself, so whilst it was playing, I had to listen 'blind'. The following comments were made on that basis, without any knowledge of authorship or participating musicians.
'Perfect World' is very good, certainly of the quality and style of anything on the main album. I don't understand why it was left off the album, unless it was judged to not 'fit' the overall composition. It certainly isn't a discarded out-take!
When I first heard 'Where Is My Love?', I presumed it was a cover song; it just seemed uncharacteristic of Blackfield, both in composition (relatively simplistic (only relatively!) and surprisingly repetitive) and delivery. At the same point in each verse line, SW lengthens/slurs the letter 'r' (in 'heart', 'your', and 'stars'), as if attempting to mimic an American accent. Very odd, and annoying.
That I guessed it was a cover of something by a crappy pop/prog band like Rush or Yes gives some idea of how much I like it! No; that's an overstatement. I don't dislike it, it's just not something I'd particularly choose to hear, and I'm glad it's not on the main album.
It was only afterwards that I took the disc out of the player and discovered that it's a Geffen composition. Terrific. Now I'm going to be accused of slamming Geffen. I honestly didn't know who wrote it, and my criticism is genuinely based on the music itself. I don't like it, but I promise that's not because it's by Geffen!
The live version of 'Cloudy Now', recorded by the five-piece band for Channel 24 (Israeli TV's music channel) in late February (that's not mentioned on the disc itself) is excellent, with the clarity and balance of a track recorded live in a studio, rather than in the uncertain acoustics of a concert venue.
Note that the credit printed on the disc is again 'written by Aviv Geffen and Steven Wilson', not Geffen alone. This reinforces the fact that it's not merely a transliteration (as opposed to translation) of Geffen's 1980's breakthough hit, which was unquestionably his own composition - the Blackfield version is different, with a substantive input from SW, and is credited as such.
It's good to have the excellent video of 'Blackfield' on the disc, though to be picky, anyone could already download exactly the same thing from Lasse Hoile's website.
I also noticed that in Windows Me at home, the video was very jerky in the player provided on the disc (fine in WinXP at work), and was much smoother when I played the mpeg in a standalone player (RealPlayer/Windows Media Player).
Did I mention that I recommend this album?
14 August, 2004
PT for PF - back online, here
Back in April, I recommended an article by Patrick Keller at 'Spare Bricks', the Pink Floyd webzine, which provided a good introduction to Porcupine Tree, specifically directed at existing fans of Pink Floyd.
Unfortunately, when the next 'issue' of 'Spare Bricks' was released, a new Patrick Keller article took over the same URL, displacing the Porcupine Tree one with an equivalent introduction to 'the other PT', Pineapple Thief.
I'm pleased to say both Patrick and the 'Spare Bricks' editor, Mike McInnis, have granted permission for the Ministry to host a copy of the Porcupine Tree article, at least until 'Spare Bricks' incorporates its own archive of 'back issues'.
3 August, 2004
Limited editions limit
Over the past few days, the official forum at porcupinetree .com has seen a discussion about the nature of 'exclusive' collectors' editions of albums.
SW is notorious for releasing wonderful music in ludicrously small print runs - as I mentioned in April, 'Unreleased Electronic Music v.1' was, er, released in a run of merely 100 copies worldwide (which sold out in hours), later extended to 350. That's an extreme example, but far from unique. If you look at SW's page at the Porcupine Tree web store, you'll note that a majority of the items are limited to 1,000 copies, and several of the remainder have already sold out (so buy now!).
He has explained in interviews that it's partly a deliberate attempt to encourage collecting - if resources are scarce, it increases the 'thrill of the chase' and sense of satisfaction at managing to 'capture' a rare edition after a long, difficult and expensive search. Personally, I regard the whole practice as childish, encouraging exorbitant prices at eBay, and to be discouraged, but that's just me.
My own view is that if music is considered suitable for release at all, it ought to be made available in numbers which would satisfy everyone who would be interested in hearing it. This means print runs in the thousands, or, as with the 'Bass Communion III' official CD-R, sales on a 'manufacture on demand' basis. [Update 02/08/07: Since discontinued!] The music shouldn't be exclusive.
This doesn't totally preclude special collectors' editions - they're not my thing, but I wouldn't want to deny them to those who do enjoy that aspect of a bands output.
As I understand it, collectability is about the item: that specific piece of plastic, in that specific packaging. Exclusivity of that sort of thing is fine. Those who want that 'added value' can hunt for it. However, I strongly feel the core 'product', the music itself, ought to be made fully available - not free, but available in whatever numbers the mass-market will stand.
My solution would be to release two editions:
- Unlimited release, for everyone. If they sell out, produce more.
- Limited release, with exactly the same content, but unique packaging, coloured vinyl, etc. Something 'exclusive' for the collectors, but which still allows everyone else to have full access to all the music. Don't make the music exclusive.
One response was:
But to release everything in large numbers defeats the object of collecting/collectability. If there are other versions of something limited on the market, that devalues the limited edition version.
I disagree. If someone buys a version of an album as 2 CDs in a limited-edition 124-page hardback book with unique artwork, itself in a study slipcase, he/she has something special, a true collector's item. If other people have exactly the same music as 2 CDs in a standard jewel case, that doesn't diminish the special edition. No-one misses out on the aspect they value most: the collectability or the music.
There is a secondary issue, on which I won't elaborate as I'm a little short of time: it's highly debatable whether over-use of 'limited editions' as a marketing device really helps to promote a band. If a large proportion of the back catalogue is unavailable, that merely leads to frustration and resentment.
21 July, 2004
Bass Communion InteractiveDJ Mix in circulation
At the start of March 2000, Steven Wilson combined several excepts from his ambient projects (primarily Bass Communion) into a single 60-minute mix for the (now defunct) InteractiveDJ website. Material was drawn from 'Bass Communion', 'Bass Communion II', 'Bass Communion Vs. Muslimgauze', 'IEM' and the IEM EP 'An Escalator To Christmas', plus unreleased material which subsequently appeared on 'Bass Communion III' and 'SW Unreleased Electronic Music v.1'. A couple of further pieces remain unreleased and hence unique to this mix.
With the loss of the InteractiveDJ website, the mix is regretably unavailable, so it is currently circulating amongst fans strictly on a non-commercial basis. If anyone's interested, try the PT-Weeds Group at Yahoo! (Yahoo! Groups require free registration).
A second reason to mention it here is that I completed the downloadable CD cover artwork this evening.
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.
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.
14 May, 2004
Oh, very clever
I'm told Total Guitar magazine (useless website) has a brief interview with Steven Wilson in the current issue, which includes:
Q: What would you play to someone to show off your skills?
SW: The piano.
Kind of missing the point there, Steven... ;)
25 April, 2004
Very limited edition - update
As a result of much greater interest in Steven Wilson's 'Unreleased Electronic Music Vol.1' than anticipated, and fairly vocal criticism from even the more sycophantic fans regarding the tiny initial release, SW (sorry, 'Headphone Dust') has announced that a second batch will be made available over the summer.
"This time we want to make sure everyone who would like a copy will have the chance to get one, so the size of the second and final batch will depend on the number of reservations. There will be an announcement in May about how to reserve one, so please don't try to do so now. Thank you!"
Okay, I'm impressed.
22 April, 2004
Very limited edition
Last night, Steven Wilson HQ announced a new album release from the Headphone Dust label. By this morning, it had totally sold out.
Steven Wilson's 'Unreleased Electronic Music Vol.1' is an 11-track, 65-min compilation containing exactly what the title suggests; more precisely, music created since 1990, somewhat similar to that of SW's ambient project Bass Communion but "more rhythmic and mostly in a dark-hop [?] or electronic vein". Some pieces were created for television commissions, but none were ever fully developed.
The presentation is rather... special:
Each disc (a high quality Taiyo Yuden CDR) is packaged in a slim line DVD container, with a numbered and signed index card. In addition, each copy contains it's own one of a kind original Polaroid photograph taken by Lasse Hoile specifically for the project. At present there are only 100 copies available to purchase (though there may be a second batch at some point in the future)."
I case it's unclear, SWHQ is SW's personal site, Headphone Dust is his personal record label, and the hands which made this handmade edition will have been his own! I suspect the otherwise ludicrously small number of copies is limited because that's the number he could personally afford the time to make and distribute.
I'm not sure how I feel about this. Disappointed that I'm unlikely to ever hear this music. Amused and impressed that SW can and does make such personal album releases. Annoyed that yet again he's indulged his obsession with exclusive editions and miniscule print runs.
I have absolutely no doubt that an edition of 1,000-1,500 mass-produced CDs in standard jewel cases, or an unlimited release on the burn-on-demand basis already used for 'Bass Communion III' would sell well, any initial outlay for preparation being recouped from sales. In addition to making the music available to anyone who wants it, this would also combat the predatory profiteering of eBay sharks.
It's only four days since much the same situation occurred: the deliberately exclusive Klanggalerie label released the 7" 'Vajrayana' Bass Communion single, an edition specially extended to 200 copies. It obviously sold out immediately.
Much as I like the music, this isn't a game I'm prepared to play.
5 April, 2004
Blackfield: news on international release
Steven Wilson's own purchasing advice, as posted in the discussion forum at Porcupinetree.com
"Maybe I'm a bit late but I would urge people outside of Israel not to waste their money on the Israeli edition of the Blackfield album by buying it from this jazzis website or ebay. The international edition is going to be out soon and will feature a lot of extra material - perhaps it will be a 2 CD set, we are still finalising things. Though I recognise that some fans were not prepared to wait, complaints about the fact that they bought an inferior version on import will get no sympathy from me! We even made a point of not selling it through the PT store to discourage people outside Israel from buying this edition."
5 April, 2004
PT for PF fans
Patrick Keller of 'Spare Bricks', the Pink Floyd webzine, presents a good introduction to Porcupine Tree and an overview of their career to date, presenting the band to existing fans of Pink Floyd.
[Update 22/06/04: The new 'issue' of 'Spare Bricks' is online, with a new article displacing this Porcupine Tree one at the same URL. I'm hoping to make it available myself, at a later date. Follow the link anyway - Patrick offers the same sort of introduction to the other PT of potential interest to Floyd fans, Pineapple Thief.]
[Updated update 14/08/04: As advertised, the Ministry is now hosting Patrick's article, at least until Spare Bricks incorporates archives of its own.]
10 March, 2004
Link to review: 'In Absentia' DVD-A (Porcupine Tree, 2004)
Porcupine Tree's 'In Absentia' DVD-A is due out today (though my copy hasn't arrived from Burning Shed yet*...). I may offer my own review after I've heard the DVD, but I know next to nothing about the technical issues of surround mixes and I'm not a musician, so my comments would be purely as a listener. For a more detailed review, try this one at HighFidelityReview.com, which also features an extended interview with Steven Wilson on the project and future plans for Porcupine Tree.
*: Having just checked the Burning Shed site, I see the release date has been moved to 16 March! Waa! Several other retailers have already been despatching it; it's even no.2 in the Play.com DVD-A chart. (Update: 11/03/04: No.1!)
4 March, 2004
There's a good interview with Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree) at Studio M, discussing the 'In Absentia' DVD-A, the role of that format in future releases, and progress on the next album. There's also mention of SW's work with Marillion, and the international release of 'Blackfield'.
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.
- 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'
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.
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.
*: 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]