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Music Review: Blackfield – Blackfield II

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About three months ago now, I made one of the most pleasantly unexpected musical discoveries I've made in several years. Porcupine Tree is a band I discovered more or less by accident when I wrote a couple of articles here about Marillion — another prog-rock band from England — and several readers urged me to check out PT in comments they left.

So check them out I did.

Actually dove in head first is more like it. After purchasing Porcupine Tree's newest CD Fear Of A Blank Planet, I was so knocked out I bought several more of their CDs. Three months in, and I am still constantly hearing something new that I missed every time I put on one of their CDs. Honestly, for a band that has been around for as long as Porcupine Tree has — they've been putting out records since about the early nineties now — I am absolutely amazed they are not more of a household name in this country.

But what I find most inexplicable is how a guy like Steven Wilson — PT's principal singer, songwriter, guitarist, and all around resident genius — hasn't received wider recognition, both critically and otherwise.

Not only is Wilson a great guitar player and singer, he is also an extremely prolific and multi-faceted songwriter. On Porcupine Tree's records alone, Wilson goes from the Floydian atmospherics of early albums like The Sky Moves Sideways, to the beautifully crafted pop of something like Deadwing's "Lazarus," to the all out metallic shredding of Fear Of A Blank Planet's eighteen minute opus "Anesthetize."

On Blackfield II, Wilson's second collaboration with Israeli songwriter Aviv Geffen, Wilson reveals yet another side of his musical personality. I'm not sure exactly when or how I heard this was more of a quieter, acoustic sort of record than the heavier sounding stuff that Wilson does with Porcupine Tree. Because the truth is, it is anything but.

To be sure, Blackfield II is nowhere near as heavy as Porcupine Tree can be, but neither does it resemble anything that sounds stripped down in any way. The sound here is every bit as full as a Porcupine Tree record, but is lush with beautifully sweeping string arrangements and romantic sounding pop tunes, the same way that Porcupine Tree leans to the proggier side of metal. However where the sound is sweet, the lyrics are full of darkness and melancholy.

Steven Wilson sings the lead parts solo on six of this album's tracks, and produced the record. But before you think this may be just be a Wilson solo project, think again. Aviv wrote fully half of the songs here — many of which were translated from his original Hebrew. He also handles all of the string arrangements — which as I've already said, play a dominant role on the album. So Aviv is not just playing Andrew Ridgely to Wilson's George Micheal here.

But back to those dark lyrics. Much of the album seems to deal in themes of dark or outright doomed love. On "Epidemic," for example, the happy chorus goes something like " An epidemic in my heart takes hold and slowly poisons me, her will won't let me breathe, it comes in waves and bleeds me dry." The thing is that even though the song begins with a simple minor chord sequence played on piano to match the melancholy lyrics, it builds into a beautiful guitar driven crescendo.

The song "Where Is My Love?," asks the musical question "Endless fields of emptiness in my dark and wounded heart, where is my love?" Meanwhile a wall of guitars swirl about in a sweeping arrangement that contrasts the somewhat depressing lyrical tone. Likewise, on "My Gift Of Silence," the lyrics plead "If I compiled all my crimes and lies into amnesty, would you come back to me?," even as the song builds to yet another of this albums many grandly sweeping arrangements.

Honestly, if I wasn't already convinced that there is a grandiose masterwork along the lines of a Sgt. Pepper or Pet Sounds lying in wait somewhere in Steven Wilson's brain, the beautifully crafted pop of this album has pretty much sold me.

The best track on the album however is "Christenings," which appears to be the tale of a faded rock star who "I used to see all the time on MTV," but who is later met "in a record store, you had slept in the clothes you wore." Another of the lyrics here seems to refer to Led Zeppelin with the line "Black Dog sitting in a park, odd looks from the mothers of the devil's own." Musically however, the song sounds far closer to the British glam-pop of Ziggy era David Bowie than Led Zeppelin.

Simply put, Blackfield II is an album where melancholic and sad sounding songs have never sounded so good — wrapped as they are in the gorgeous sounding pop arrangements here. And Steven Wilson as a songwriter and all around talent continues to both surprise and amaze me.

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About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, Ultimate Classic Rock, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.
  • This is so good, I can’t bring myself to take it out of my rotation after listening to it God knows how many times. “Christenings” is my favorite selection, too, but I like them all. I think Tom Johnson said it’s unofficially a PT track. In any case, thanks again to TJ for alerting me about this album. It’s consistently excellent, and you did a good job describing it, Glen.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Nice Review…

    Finally a laid back album that shows dedication,passion & great talent! I like how Mr. Wilson(No Dennis the Menace or Castaway remarks..lol) isn’t afraid to push the boundaries with his mellower(?) material.

    Though you shouldn’t worry about the lack of worldwide credit. It just goes to show how much the music industry lacks in knowledge about talent & musicianship. Which is fine with me… I’d rather Steven Wilson’s projects get big in the underground that way he can make the ends meet and not get any foolish ideas to work with any of the mainstream pansies. Plus, we don’t need any more “cookie cutting” than we already have.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    *BTW* So far, I love “1,000 People”.
    It is quite pleasant & original to my ears…

  • David Pickup

    I had been listening to Blackfield II for 3 weeks and was blown away.

    Unfortunatly my car was sent to the garage for the last 2 weeks ( along with the C.D )

    Thank god Blackfield 1 came in the post so I could play it in the hire car.

    Now my Car is back,I cannot decide which is the best.

    Normally you would see an improvement or decline in the second album.

    They are as I have read in earlier reviews……. Just Masterpieces.
    can’t wait for Blackfied III

  • Glad to see you like PT (Glen) and Blackfield II (Glen AND Pico.) It’s still one of my favorites of the year (slightly better than PT’s Fear of a Blank Planet, which is a great album by itself).

    And, yes, “Christenings” was recorded during the sessions for Porcupine Tree’s In Absentia but Wilson took the recording to the Blackfield album instead. What you hear on this track alone on Blackfield II is Porcupine Tree (I don’t know if Aviv added anything, however.) You’ll see in the liner notes that the band is credited for that track.

    Steve and Aviv have reportedly recorded a show (or are going to) for a DVD release later this year or early next year. That should be pretty interesting, judging by how well Arriving Somewhere came out.

  • Wow, so “Christenings” is actually a PT recording huh? I guess I should’ve combed the liner notes better so I could have mentioned that. Weird, because it fits in with the rest of the album so seamlessly you’d never know it.

    The idea of a live Blackfield DVD is certainly one to salivate over. I actually combed You Tube looking for live clips to include here, but wasn’t satisfied enough with the quality of any of them (I did stick a couple of them on my personal blog though).

    Tom, I also think this is one of the year’s best, though at the moment I still rank PT’s FOABP just a notch higher. As gorgeous as these songs are, FOABP’s “Anesthetize” just kicks my ass inside out, and the song “Sentimental” gives me goose bumps — I’m just a total sucker for those minor chords.


  • Oh, one other thing. Thanx Tom and Pico for pointing me toward these guys. I respect both of your opinions so I knew I had to check them out based on that alone — and I’m very glad I did. I think Guppus may’ve recommended PT at some point as well — not sure if or when — but I’m nowehere near the metalhead he is so I might’ve filed that recommendation away somewhere .

    Anyway, I guess I probably owe you two, and possibly three guys a round of cold ones next time your in Seattle. Thanx for turning me on to such a great talent.


  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus


    Yea, I was turned on to PT when “In Absentia” came out from a street team guy on Newbury Street in Boston,so, I can’t say that I was the first to point them out to you. But, atleast Tom & Pico had the sense to stand up and shout out about ’em to you because both these projects/bands are excellent. And, I do consider them to be modern prog, not pop. But that’s my opinion.

    As for being a Metalhead(thank you),yes I always will be but honestly I do love some pretty eclectic & obscure stuff in all genres but the key is that it has to have passion & musicianship which both PT & Blackfield has.

    All in all, Great Review & it’s nice to connect with people who can groove to some cool sh*t!!

    Glen… You buy the beers, I’ll cover the shots of Cabo Wabo. Then we can pump some Fantomas!!
    F*ck Y*ah!!

  • Congrats! This article has been forwarded to the Advance.net websites and Boston.com.

  • Houman

    Glen1 Did you ever heard the No-man Album?
    It is another collaboration between Wilson and Tim Bowness. My Gift of silence is more like the last album of them.