Steven Wilson S/D (Porcupine Tree, No-Man, Blackfield, the mixing desk, etc.)

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There are threads on some of this guy's various bands but given that he's spent the last 5 years going solo and remastering a bunch of classic prog albums I figure he deserves his own thread. I have yet to hear last year's The Raven That Refused to Sing but an awful lot of people I trust have said that it's great and should easily hit classic status. He may be the hardest working man in progressive rock right now and is arguably the most well known.

I've heard all the P-Tree albums up to Stupid Dream and I have yet to really encounter a dud (though On the Sunday of Life is a little odd), but there is something that bothers me about the dude's approach. To put it shortly I have trouble really buying any of it; nearly everything he does feels very calculated and precise (down to say, the samples of numbers stations to promote a "creepy" atmosphere), his vocal range is rather narrow and he sings nearly everything the same way outside of the rare "Sleep of No Dreaming" or whatever. I dont find the lyrics all that interesting either. I feel like if you wrote a computer program to analyse all the great King Crimson albums and return some output you'd get the works of Porcupine Tree. He very clearly knows what he's doing, he's a very good producer, knows to switch things up when appropriate, and obviously has studied what makes for a good dynamic shift. But I don't feel any spontaneity - I appreciate the wildness of Van der Graaf Generator and the scatterbrain complexity of Gentle Giant and wish that PT had a little of that. But I feel silly complaining about them because everything I've heard yet has been rather enjoyable and memorable, and you don't exactly see anyone else producing rock-solid albums like Signify on a yearly basis the way he does.

No-Man has this issue to a lesser degree, though I see them as more hit-and-miss, and when they hit they hit hard. I definitely can rep for Wild Opera. Unlike PT I do get the sense that they're relentlessly trying to create their own sound. I don't like the canned drum loops much though.

His remaster campaign has been brilliant from what I've heard. The remaster of KC's Lizard is astounding, maybe the biggest improvement sound I've ever heard. Though calling it a remaster is a little unfair, parts of it were reassembled altogether. I've heard nothing but good things about his latest remasters of ELP and Yes. Any in particular worth seeking out?

frogbs, Thursday, 27 February 2014 16:44 (three years ago) Permalink

I much prefer the three SW solo albums to PT, I don't know his other projects. The PT albums have a hard edge that I don't really care for. And yes, you should definitely hear The Raven, it's magnificent.

my father will guide me up the stairs to bed (anagram), Thursday, 27 February 2014 16:49 (three years ago) Permalink

XP - Yeah I hear that frogbs, I've always felt there's something off about him. So much of the music (as PT and those multitudinous side projects) seems based on his record collection rather than any perceivable musical joy, so much of it feels cold and calculated.

MaresNest, Thursday, 27 February 2014 17:12 (three years ago) Permalink

Yeah, The Raven is absolutely magnificent and one of my favorite neo-prog albums in a long, long time. I think Wilson is supremely talented and have really enjoyed the two remastered King Crimson albums I've heard that he has done. I'm hot or miss on his work though, I loved his last two solo albums, hated the Storm Corrossion album (though I loved Opeth's prog-folk album, Heritage, so I'm wondering who's more to blame for that one), and am pretty much divided between like and lukewarm on the Porcupine Tree I've heard (opposite of frogbs, only stuff post-2000). Have only heard a couple scattered Blackfield tracks and nothing, knowingly, from No-Man.

an enormous bolus of flatulence (jon /via/ chi 2.0), Thursday, 27 February 2014 17:15 (three years ago) Permalink

Being a long time fan but one who started with No Man and always sees that as the centerpiece of the whole Burning Shed empire (I was there when it was homemade CDRs man), there's definitely a...I don't know if coldness is the right word. I have nothing against rigorously and maniacally focused music at all but there's a weird veneer of 'Ah, yes, this is exactly what music needs to be and anything else would be an issue' present in much of his approach that feels strange. No Man feels like he relaxes and tries different things as a result more readily, in combination with having such a great singer in Tim Bowness. That said I really do need to catch up with the solo work properly here.

Ned Raggett, Thursday, 27 February 2014 17:21 (three years ago) Permalink

That's a good way of explaining it. You can tell that he's analyzed the riffs of King Crimson, the sounds of Pink Floyd, and the sampling and atmosphere of the Orb, but all of those bands are known for being very spontaneous - I think a lot of Orb tracks were mixed live, and Crimson would put a lot of improv right on the albums and switch up their identity every couple albums. PT music is often very structured. It seems like he writes it like - "okay, here's the bass riff, then we're going to double it on guitar, go double speed, break things down and do the spacey, atmospheric part, add some bongos, then slowly put the bass back in, add in a sudden loud dynamic shift, and those it with echo and a David Lynch sample". It all sounds great but it feels like an academic exercise, or someone playing Rock Band on expert - as MaresNest mentioned there isn't much joy in it, nor much despair. Even in his interviews he seems like a very well-spoken, intelligent, but ultimately kind of dull person.

frogbs, Thursday, 27 February 2014 21:19 (three years ago) Permalink

oh his interviews are awful, although they've gotten better. he used to come off so conceited. but his solo albums are works of beauty; sure they aren't very spontaneous, but I very much appreciate the craft involved.

akm, Friday, 28 February 2014 00:07 (three years ago) Permalink

Entirely with MaresNest on this one tbh - for a man with such taste and ability he sure knows how to suck all the thrill outta music. More edge on a snooker ball

That said, PT have a select few decent songs. I think I like the Up The Downstair stuff most tbh. I also have a soft spot for when he makes a full concession to his innate & inescapable sweetness, e.g. Glass Arm Shattering. He'd be a better pop (or soft-rock) artist than prog IMO

You cannot interrupt his tea stirring because it is his holy trick (imago), Friday, 28 February 2014 00:19 (three years ago) Permalink

This speaks volumes imho

http://www.soundsonline.com/Ghostwriter

MaresNest, Friday, 28 February 2014 00:36 (three years ago) Permalink

It's weird because he does have some odd dark corners of his whole discography that shows a certain willingness to let himself go, or try unexpected things. Incredible Expanding Mindfuck never quite lived up to the amazing name but still works nicely enough, while the Bass Communion stuff is validated by those Muslimgauze collaborations, and two more English and simultaneously same and different artists I find hard to imagine. I always thought Wilson's message in the second and last collaborative release about how they got in contact and worked together in their back and forth fashion served both as an interesting peek into both of their creative psyches -- Wilson probably really enjoyed the challenge of someone as fanatically focused on an approach and specific goals as he was being a partner -- and a quiet gentle tribute to Jones and his sudden, unexpected passing without being maudlin, which I suspect the latter would have really appreciated. So you could argue it's that semi-bloodless strain of Wilson at work but I like how it seemed to suit the situation -- the overall feeling is one of simple regret that more could not be accomplished.

Ned Raggett, Friday, 28 February 2014 00:38 (three years ago) Permalink

I arrived at Steven Wilson via his Jansen/Barbieri connection. I've never much liked early No-Man nor Porcupine Tree up until he switched gears on Signify. But No-Man since Returning Jesus are untouchable and the most impressive project that Wilson has been involved with. Wish he'd get over himself and work with Tim Bowness again. Stupid Dream was the first to really hit me and I eagerly followed everything they released until The Incident, which still sounds overthought and undercooked. Wilson's first solo has the wonderful title cut and "Harmony Korine" but also a lot of filler. The first half of Grace Before Drowning is excellent but I rarely bother with the second disc. "Raider II" is a slog. Live, he surprisingly still seems an awkward frontman despite having toured extensively. I've cooled on Raven since first hearing and wildly raving about it, but the title track is undeniably beautiful. Wilson has a gift for melodies and when he combines that with dark atmospherics, it works exceptionally well (even if it's become somewhat of a template for him.) I do miss the subtler dynamics of Porcupine Tree and don't enjoy his current band much at all. While Theo Travis and Adam Holzman are great, his trading Gavin Harrison for Marco Minneman (who generally evokes that "drummer at the wrong gig" video on YouTube) was tragic and ruins much of it for me.

doug watson, Friday, 28 February 2014 01:33 (three years ago) Permalink

never had much use for porcupine tree but his solo albums are jams. the first one ('insurgentes') has the looseness and swing i think you're missing frogbs. and the latest one is great prog rock for any era, just a hair under battles' 'mirrored', motorpsycho's 'death-defying unicorn,' and decemberists' 'crane wife' in my book for the best of the past decade. i disagree with jon about storm corrosion -- it's a grower. it's quiet, like a late talk talk album, and reveals itself over time

reggie (qualmsley), Friday, 28 February 2014 01:45 (three years ago) Permalink

I'll have to check it out. Looking through his RYM pages and I had no idea he did so much, he's got almost kind of a Tatsuya Yoshida thing going on. I guess I'm finding the No-Man albums the most interesting right now, as they seem to hit on great ideas but then move onto other things - there's only one of say "Painter's Paradise" in their catalog while PT has an endless amount of doomy/funky jamtracks. Dunno if I'm convinced of Bowness as a singer yet, I wish he had more range and he always sounds like he's about to burst into tears.

Figured I'd give Stupid Dream another listen, it's really quite good isn't it? I think he really does transition into more of a pop artist there.

frogbs, Friday, 28 February 2014 14:11 (three years ago) Permalink

i disagree with jon about storm corrosion -- it's a grower. it's quiet, like a late talk talk album, and reveals itself over time

Fair enough. I actually don't have a problem with the quietness of the record, I appreciated that, but it just never grew for me. It just felt very lifeless to me. I also think I had huge expectations going into it though, based on how much I loved Wilson's solo work and Opeth's Heritage coming right before it.

an enormous bolus of flatulence (jon /via/ chi 2.0), Friday, 28 February 2014 16:05 (three years ago) Permalink

my expectations were pretty big too, but tempered by being sort of disappointed by 'heritage' (which i should probably revisit)

reggie (qualmsley), Friday, 28 February 2014 16:22 (three years ago) Permalink

I remember my first Wilson thing was PT's In Absentia. I found it distressingly poppy (I used to be bothered by very polished sound and singles chart radio friendly vocals), I had a similar reaction to Opeth (although growling and extreme metal elements were not very pop) and Frost (they have a pop producer and ended up being one of my favourite modern bands).
I still have reservations about all these things. I do find it slightly odd that Wilson is very anti mainstream homogenization but I find his sensibilities sometimes a bit too pop.

But I enjoy his music. In Absentia's "Gravity Eyelids" is amazing. Solo album Insurgents has a great dreampop song. The incident's title track is fucking great. Only have 4 of his albums actually, should get more.

I like his interviews, I thought his explanation of the decline of many rock bands was better than most peoples reasonings.

Robert Adam Gilmour, Saturday, 1 March 2014 21:08 (three years ago) Permalink

five months pass...

I just heard his remix of Close to the Edge and holy shit, this guy really knows what he's doing at the mixing desk. Never heard just how great Howe and Bruford's parts really were on that one. Should I shell out for his other remasters? (Thinking about picking up The Yes Album at least, kinda thinking about some King Crimson ones as well)

Maggie killed Quagmire (collest baby ever) (frogbs), Friday, 8 August 2014 15:21 (three years ago) Permalink

So far I've picked up his remasters of King Crimson's Red and Gentle Giant's The Power and the Glory, really loved them both. They both sounded amazing to me but, tbh, I've only ever known them previously through my old vinyl copies. I'll have to look for the Yes ones!

Bus Sex Teen Busted After Queef Beef (jon /via/ chi 2.0), Friday, 8 August 2014 18:05 (three years ago) Permalink

one month passes...

Comparing the remasters side-by-side it's kind of nuts how much he changes considering they're such "classic" albums (in a crowd that's pretty anal about everything) - Lizard is the most obvious example given that it uses parts that were never even on the original but all of them so far have a few moments of "whoa, I don't remember that"

Listening to Lightbulb Sun right now. The title track is so damn good, maybe my favorite song of his overall. I wish he would just let loose and kick out the jams but this album still rules. I think his approach works well with these sort of prog/pop tunes.

Maggie killed Quagmire (collest baby ever) (frogbs), Monday, 6 October 2014 13:48 (three years ago) Permalink

his best stuff is always, always the poppier material, the stuff that embraces its own softness as a primary component

Ƹ༑Ʒ (imago), Monday, 6 October 2014 14:22 (three years ago) Permalink

a whole album of ambient pop a la Glass Arm Shattering wd be good

Ƹ༑Ʒ (imago), Monday, 6 October 2014 14:23 (three years ago) Permalink

even from the beginning that was true - I always wondered why he didn't do more songs like "Small Fish" from Up the Downstair considering he's so good at it

Maggie killed Quagmire (collest baby ever) (frogbs), Monday, 6 October 2014 14:33 (three years ago) Permalink

kudos to his production (or whatever involvement) on the latest opeth album. it fucking slays. who else has ever been this involved in so many awesome projects at once? eno? jim o'rourke?

reggie (qualmsley), Monday, 6 October 2014 15:08 (three years ago) Permalink

four months pass...

New album is pretty good, but doesn't scale the heights of the previous ones to me; and at times seems too reminiscent of P Tree, which makes me wonder why it's not just P Tree. Seems like it might be time for him to try something new; it's still good though.

akm, Wednesday, 25 February 2015 22:57 (two years ago) Permalink

Hmm, I had really high hopes for this after that last one. I was hoping for something as good, but I'll take even just plain "pretty good" Steven Wilson any day.

ƋППṍӮɨ∏ğڵșěᶉᶇдM℮ (jon /via/ chi 2.0), Wednesday, 25 February 2015 23:05 (two years ago) Permalink

You might like it more than I do. I like it, it's just very similar to past things. The poppy title track is probably the one dissimilar thing (which I really like).

akm, Wednesday, 25 February 2015 23:26 (two years ago) Permalink

after living with it a few days any reservations I had about it are gone.

akm, Saturday, 28 February 2015 06:14 (two years ago) Permalink

for my money he's 4 for 4 now with solo albums. i way prefer these to porcupine tree. it's almost worth prog rock getting mercilessly trashed for almost three decades to hear it sounding so fresh these past few years, like the slate was cleaned, palate cleansed, what have you, by all the slagging. that's the main reason i don't have the reservations about a 'calculatedness' some hear as expressed above in the thread -- you had to be brave to be making this kind of music when this guy was starting out, with only the likes of critical pariahs like marillion running around doing the same. for sure the advent of tortoise and radiohead didn't hurt, but the odds were way against anyone taking him seriously ever, and man did he pull it off

anyways the 'concept' with this new one is kinda engaging ~ an impressionistic narrative of joyce vincent, a youngish woman whose corpse decomposed undiscovered for a couple years in her apartment

http://www.theguardian.com/music/2015/feb/26/steven-wilson-hand-cannot-erase-review

there's a documentary about it, too, from a few years back

http://www.theguardian.com/film/2011/oct/09/joyce-vincent-death-mystery-documentary

reggie (qualmsley), Saturday, 28 February 2015 12:31 (two years ago) Permalink

yeah I actually don't see it having as much to do with her as was originally implied; I guess the concept of loneliness and disengagement is there.

I agree that all four of his solo albums are preferable to P Tree. In fact my favorite P Tree album these days is the last one (The Incident), which is the one no-one seems to like and is also the most like his solo records.

akm, Saturday, 28 February 2015 21:05 (two years ago) Permalink

I liked The Incident, especially the title track. It's a good album.

Robert Adam Gilmour, Sunday, 1 March 2015 12:57 (two years ago) Permalink

Ok, any reservations I had about the new album are long gone. Another great one. I have a hard time ranking his solo records as I think they're all equally strong

akm, Wednesday, 11 March 2015 21:35 (two years ago) Permalink

one month passes...

Remix/remaster or Yes' "Relayer" is glorious.

Acid Hose (Capitaine Jay Vee), Thursday, 30 April 2015 15:24 (two years ago) Permalink

oh man, can't wait to hear that, that album is completely nuts

frogbs, Thursday, 30 April 2015 16:54 (two years ago) Permalink

nine months pass...

I really enjoyed The Raven... album when I heard it in passing, but I've never listened to even that one closely, let alone the rest of his vast discography.

His new in-between solo release '4 1/2' is really catching my ears though. It's apparently a collection of 5 pieces that have kind of fallen by the wayside over the last few years which he's finally given the time to work up properly, plus one revisit of an old Porcupine Tree track, and there's some fantastic sounding stuff on it! The first track "My Book Of Regrets' and the mid-point 'Happiness III' in particular are so incredibly poppy and catchy, in a great way - the former being a 10 minute multi-faceted melodic prog piece.

I read a short interview on his site where he mentions a few times being afraid of indulging or allowing his pop sensibilities to really shine in the past and that he's trying to just let that happen when it seems right to do so. It definitely seems right here!

Interested to hear what anyone else thinks of this one and where it should lead me to investigate further...

NWOFHM! Overlord (krakow), Sunday, 7 February 2016 12:28 (one year ago) Permalink

The main bulk of two of the tracks are taken from live recordings, then finished up in the studio, but on "My Book Of Regrets" especially I would have no idea that this were the case from how it sounds.

NWOFHM! Overlord (krakow), Sunday, 7 February 2016 14:36 (one year ago) Permalink

Thanks for the rec, there's some lovely stuff on here. I really like the smooth changes of "Sunday Rain Sets In."

Josh in Chicago, Monday, 8 February 2016 16:38 (one year ago) Permalink

two weeks pass...

Listening to his most recent solo album "Hand.Cannot.Erase.," it sounds like a really strong fusion of late '70s Rush and early '70s Genesis, pretty cool.

Josh in Chicago, Tuesday, 23 February 2016 15:00 (one year ago) Permalink

I never got beyond Stars Dive, which had a bunch of Radio 1 airplay in the early 90s. Is there anything more like that? Not really a fan of a the squiggley proggier stuff.

Chuck_Tatum, Tuesday, 23 February 2016 15:12 (one year ago) Permalink

Hmm. This new one doesn't seem terribly squiggly. Corny, sure, but not too squiggly:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UqQIAAkw_Gk

Josh in Chicago, Tuesday, 23 February 2016 15:18 (one year ago) Permalink


Frightened Inmate #21 day ago
Catchiest song in history that's in 9/4

Josh in Chicago, Tuesday, 23 February 2016 15:18 (one year ago) Permalink

That song really sounds like Manic Street Preachers to me! Not a comparison I'd expect, but it definitely does!

NWOFHM! Overlord (krakow), Tuesday, 23 February 2016 16:36 (one year ago) Permalink

Yeah, tbh I've only dipped into Wilson's daunting oeuvre, but it's really all over the place!

Josh in Chicago, Tuesday, 23 February 2016 17:43 (one year ago) Permalink

probably my favorite musician these days.

akm, Tuesday, 23 February 2016 18:43 (one year ago) Permalink

Remix/remaster of Yes' "Fragile" is wonderful. Haven't jumped in to listening to his own recordings but this guy has a wonderful approach to the classic stuff. Not for everyone I would imagine but hits all the marks when remixing and remastering as far as I'm concerned.

Acid Hose (Capitaine Jay Vee), Tuesday, 23 February 2016 23:56 (one year ago) Permalink

sorry for the 2x "wonderful".

Acid Hose (Capitaine Jay Vee), Tuesday, 23 February 2016 23:56 (one year ago) Permalink

Would love to hear him tackle Japan's discography. Steve Nye's mixes are beautiful but as far as remasters go would probably be lovely.

Acid Hose (Capitaine Jay Vee), Tuesday, 23 February 2016 23:58 (one year ago) Permalink

acid hose, since you like the fragile remaster, you should give the raven who refused to sing a shot. for me it's the best evocation of early '70s prog since motorpsycho's death defying unicorn

reggie (qualmsley), Wednesday, 24 February 2016 01:22 (one year ago) Permalink

I will check it out for sure!

Acid Hose (Capitaine Jay Vee), Wednesday, 24 February 2016 02:25 (one year ago) Permalink

agreed on that point. actually it has a lbit more of a Drama vibe to me; but yes. one of my favorite albums.

akm, Wednesday, 24 February 2016 05:41 (one year ago) Permalink

ten months pass...

the new Blackfield album (V) is a surprise; the best since the first one, maybe even better than that. It's a full Wilson collaboration despite his earlier claims to be taking a backseat; not sure what spurred the deeper involvement but it's the better for it since the last several albums were spotty at best and awful at worst.

akm, Tuesday, 3 January 2017 15:05 (eleven months ago) Permalink

that's good news, still think that first album is pretty great as far as moody pop goes

frogbs, Tuesday, 3 January 2017 15:11 (eleven months ago) Permalink

yeah I like the first one a lot. the second one, not so much; 3 &4, not really at all. this one is fairly different from all of them. I think Parsons may have had a fair amount of influence in shaping the sound.

akm, Tuesday, 3 January 2017 17:14 (eleven months ago) Permalink

six months pass...

new album has leaked, despite his stance that it's highly influenced by the same things that influence me (talk talk, 80's peter gabriel/kate bush, art rock) it still sounds just like another Steven Wilson album, maybe slightly more poppy. It's very good. That's all.

akm, Sunday, 30 July 2017 22:01 (four months ago) Permalink

I really liked the last LP and EP but this isn't doing anything for me yet

a serious and fascinating fartist (Simon H.), Sunday, 30 July 2017 22:12 (four months ago) Permalink

Listening to the Raven
Pretty impressed, had no idea anyone still made capital P prog like this,but also it doesn't completely feel like a retro throwback, there are modern elements

Universal LULU Nation (upper mississippi sh@kedown), Monday, 31 July 2017 12:41 (four months ago) Permalink

nothing epic like "the watchmaker" on this but intriguing first listen nonetheless

reggie (qualmsley), Wednesday, 9 August 2017 19:21 (four months ago) Permalink

two weeks pass...

new album is #1 on the UK charts, congrats man

frogbs, Friday, 25 August 2017 17:41 (three months ago) Permalink

It was number 1 mid-week, but finished at 3 in the final count today, which is pretty amazing nonetheless!

brain (krakow), Friday, 25 August 2017 22:06 (three months ago) Permalink

"ask me nicely" starts out borderline progstep

reggie (qualmsley), Monday, 28 August 2017 19:48 (three months ago) Permalink


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