Album Reviews

Steven Wilson – Insurgentes

(KScope) UK release date: 9 March 2009

Steven Wilson - Insurgentes Steven Wilson has been leading cult favourites Porcupine Tree since their inception back in 1987, but despite a ferocious work rate in recent years this is his first official solo album. Insurgentes first saw the light of day in November 2008 in a deluxe CD or LP package featuring a hardcover book with photographs by long-time collaborator Lasse Hoile. Snapped up by loyal Porcupine Tree fans, the standard retail version is finally being made available via KScope.

The album confirms what fans of Porcupine Tree have been banging on about for years: that Wilson is one of the UK’s most adventurous and underrated songwriters. Take the opening track Harmony Korine (whilst ignoring the rather lame name-dropping). After an opening straight out of the U2 songbook, it piles layer upon layer of sound into the mix, creating a crushing wall of sound that would have Phil Spector quaking in his pixie boots.

Curiously, this is the last conventional rock moment on the album. Abandoner’s mix of treated drums and celestial keyboards recalls not only Wilson’s side project No-Man, but also Kid A-era Radiohead without the buzzing whine of Thom Yorke’s vocals. The track finishes up in a blast of atonal noise and feedback to jolt the listener out of any complacency.

The album’s gradual descent into a sonic and lyrical heart of darkness continues on Salvaging, which is the track on the album that most readily coheres to the Porcupine Tree blueprint.

After the thrilling, primitive guitar work on Salvaging, the next track Verona Para Las Hadas positively glistens with its atmospheric keyboards and melodic vocal line. Bearing a passing resemblance to Pink Floyd‘s Shine On You Crazy Diamond, the track provides a moment of calm in the album’s middle section.

The bluesy instrumental No Twilight Within The Courts Of The Sun allows Wilson to demonstrate his chops, although the fussy rhythm section steers closer to King Crimson territory than the Delta.

Wilson then kicks into pop mode with Significant Other, the lightest moment on a seriously heavy album. Only Child also has a conventional song structure but the minor guitar chords and growled vocal add a layer of menace in keeping with the pervading mood.

The atmospheric instrumental Twilight Coda manages to summon the spirits of both John Williams and Death within its brief running time. The track leads naturally into Get All You Deserve, which moves from a slow, bluesy rumination into a drone-laden coda that could easily have come from Wilson’s Bass Communion project.

After this aural assault, the album plays out in downbeat mode with the piano-led title track, Wilson’s vocals echoing into infinity as the music fades.

The dark, cinematic style of Insurgentes provides a welcome respite from the glut of day-glo electropop currently clogging up the charts. Highly recommended for fans of Porcupine Tree (who will no doubt already own a copy) and curious music fans generally.

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