Steven Wilson

4 ½

Written by: LF on 31/03/2016 16:54:56

Steven Wilson's most recent release was only supposed to be an intermediary EP but ended up as a kind of mini-album comprising six tracks. As the prince of prog himself has explained, the release is without a grander concept or story as opposed to most of his prior albums, the reason being that this is a collection of songs that were written over the past couple of years alongside the songs on his successful albums "The Raven That Refused to Sing" from 2013 and "Hand.Cannot.Erase." from 2015. Rather than this being an album of leftovers that weren't good enough to go on the previous albums, Wilson describes the songs as neglected babies, songs that he really wanted to record but that just didn't fit into any previous releases thematically.

The album features a couple of songs that recall Wilson's songwriting on "Hand.Cannot.Erase." as well as some instrumental pieces that weave their own soundscapes in a manner akin to soundtrack music. The tracks "My Book of Regrets" and "Happiness III" are examples of the former with catchy melodies at their centers, surrounded nonetheless by the noticeable instrumental playing of Wilson's extremely talented cohorts. The up-tempo and very open-sounding "Happiness III" is an example of Wilson's more strict and poppy songwriting with a firm focus on the catchy chorus while "My Book of Regrets" on the other hand features some excellent and winding solo sections for bass, synths and guitar in its almost 10-minute duration. One important facet to this album that can also be heard in the dynamic and organic way the solos interact here is that Wilson has mixed live recordings from his shows with studio recordings of extra guitar patterns and vocals.

These two songs are framed by two very different tracks that play as cleansing interludes in between. The first one is "Year of the Plague" which stems from "The Raven..." sessions and thus has a slightly different and more ethereal and magical feel to it than the other songs here. It starts with a discomforting undercurrent but transitions into a simple but beautiful setup of piano, violin, and acoustic guitar. "Sunday Rain Sets In" has been likened to a theme from a noir spy-movie which is not far off with its delicate balancing of a beautiful piano theme between gentle guitars and a more hazy sound resembling a saxophone. Towards the end, an unexpected crescendo of instruments releases the tension that has been felt throughout, leading brilliantly into the next track.

The instrumental and groovy "Vermillioncore" continues the dark and loud vibe with some very characteristic guitar and synth themes that play dissonantly against each other. Wilson has likened it to a kind of drum 'n' bass track that might scare off his fans but at least for the ones of us who love when his songs delve into an almost ferocious improvisation of instruments, it's a treat. An almost 10-minute long version of "Don't Hate Me", originally released on Porcupine Tree's "Stupid Dream" in 1999, finishes the album with the help of the very emotional voice of Israeli singer Ninet Tayeb who also sang on Wilson's latest album. As an opposite to the previous song, it slides along in a slower tempo, the effects on Wilson's voice making it echo and blend in with the atmospheric music that also features a haunting saxophone solo.

While Wilson's thematic and audio-visual approach to most of his projects is something that makes them all stand out as very coherent units, this release is not far behind in that respect. The individual songs in this collected context fit well together in their melancholy and the repeated mention of a lonely London setting and there's a sort of cohesive continuity in it after all. Still, some of the tracks here stand out above the rest and stick with you for longer, while the others end up as "merely" pleasant listens. Even though its title presents it as an intermediary thing, "4 ½" is still a must-listen for any Wilson fan that has been into his two latest records.

Download: My Book of Regrets, Vermillioncore
For The Fans Of: The Pineapple Thief, Pink Floyd, Porcupine Tree

Release date 22.01.2016

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