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Music Review: Steven Wilson – Insurgentes

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The official backstory on the first ever full-length solo album from Porcupine Tree's ever-prolific Steven Wilson began a few weeks back when an announcement went out to fans via both e-mail newsletter and on the artist's official website.

Wilson's solo album, Insurgentes, was to be made available in a limited run of 3,000 copies. The album would include ten new original Wilson songs, recorded in 5.1 surround sound, and would be housed in a deluxe 2 CD/ 1 DVDA package also featuring bonus tracks leftover from the original sessions, an 18-minute film, and a book containing what were said to be gorgeous photographs taken by Wilson at various locations around the world.

A trailer film about Insurgentes also quickly made it's way to YouTube, followed in short order by another one. When I missed the original announcement, and found out the original run had quickly sold out, needless to say I was pissed. But there's good news.

Don't ask me how (and I'll never tell anyway), but a copy of Insurgentes found its way to my desktop earlier this week. I've listened to it pretty much every day since it arrived on Thanksgiving Day, and while part of me is more pissed at myself than ever for missing that original run, the other, more rational part is now anticipating the album's official wider release in February more than Christmas itself.

Insurgentes is every bit as gorgeous sounding as the tantalizing bits of music on that original trailer hinted it would be. Speaking of which, the music used there (seen below) is from the album's opening track, "Harmony Komine." This song kicks off the album with the sort of chiming guitar that wouldn't be at all out of place on a U2 record, before kicking into a wall of sound highlighted by Wilson's own angelic sounding vocal wails. It's just gorgeous sounding stuff.

From there, the lighter shades of that track are mostly left behind for what are the record's more dominant atmospheres of darkness. For all of Wilson's well-documented tendency to spend a lot of time in the recording studio (by my count, this is the fourth Wilson related project released this year, and one of them was a double CD), you do in fact hear elements of all of Wilson's other "projects" on this record.

The treated drum track and light keyboards of "Abandoner," for example, recall his work with No-Man (at least until the blast of noise towards the end). The beginning of "Verona Para Las Hadas" (did I mention there's a Mexican sort of theme to this record I've yet to figure out?), almost fools you into thinking Wilson's gone and remade PT's psychedelic masterpiece "The Sky Moves Sideways." At least until it becomes apparent that the soaring guitars of "Sideways" are replaced here by atmospheric keys and vocals that have more of a — how do I say this? — more of a "glide" to them.

The dense, layered guitars and droning minor bass notes of "Salvaging" likewise bring to mind Signify-era Porcupine Tree, particularly when the synths kick in. Ditto for the bonus track "Puncture Wound." But there's also this dark, thick kind of heaviness to this record that is almost emotionally draining at times — even during some of the lighter parts.

At times, this manifests itself as sort of a melancholy dreaminess (as on the aforementioned "Verona"). At others, it takes on the darker avant-prog qualities of someone like King Crimson, as on the doomy sounding "No Twilight Within The Courts Of The Sun." That one even sounds like a title Robert Fripp might have come up with.

Of all the songs here, "Only Child" and "Get All That You Deserve" probably come the closest to something resembling traditional pop structure. The former could easily fit on a latter day PT album like Fear Of A Blank Planet. The latter sounds at first like a slower, heavier version of Blackfield's "Christenings," before it eventually becomes swallowed in the sort of heavy drone you'd more commonly find on one of Wilson's Bass Communion records.

If you love Steven Wilson and Porcupine Tree, or just like your music played with lots of minor chords (with equal portions of occasionally lighter, but more often slightly off-kilter counterpoint), you'll probably love Insurgentes as much as I do. The latest word is that K-Scope will release the album's original ten songs (without the bonus tracks) on a double disc set including the 5.1 recordings this coming February.

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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.
  • Pico

    Well done, Glen. I haven’t had a chance to get through the whole thing even once yet, but it sounds much as you described it. Any Wilson fan will want to pick this one up.

  • Paul Roy

    Copies of the Insurgentes special edition version have been selling on Ebay for up to ten times the original price, since it sold out so quickly. Steve is pretty upset about it and commented about it on his MySpace page recently. He is debating on whether to release more copies, to take the market away from the Ebay sellers, or to keep his word and maintain the announced limitation.

  • Pico

    Steve is pretty upset about it and commented about it on his MySpace page recently.

    Honestly, what did he expect?

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    the simple answer to that is that they were so expensive to make that I had to err somewhere between caution and what I thought I could sell if things went fantastically well.

    See, I knew it! I stated this “opinion” on Mr. Boyd’s original article.

    Honestly, what did he expect?

    That if the release didn’t do so well,at least he won’t be living in a van down by the river and if it did “fantastically”, it would be just that…A Limited Edition. It’s not his fault that these bitches rape people via ebay Hell, they try & do that shit all the time with stuff that is available or still being published.

    My experience was with a Spastic Ink release. If I had coughed up the amount they wanted via ebay, Amazon or, I would have been ripped off. So, I emailed Mr. Jarzombek & he responded rather quickly and stated that I could get a copy directly from him for $15. or at Laser’s Edge for $12 plus s/h.

  • Pico

    It’s not his fault that these bitches rape people via ebay

    It isn’t his fault, but he should have seen that coming a mile away.

  • Paul Roy

    Brian is right. Steve though he would be lucky to sell the three or four thousand copies that he did. He and his bands Porcupine Tree, No-Man, Blackfield, etc, don’t sell millions of records. They have more of a cult following – for now.

  • Pico

    Brian is indeed right: “Hell, they try & do that shit all the time with stuff that is available or still being published.”

    That’s why Wilson shouldn’t have been surprised regardless of how well he thought his special edition CD would do.

    Add to that, it’s a cult, but a pretty fervent one. Surely Wilson knows that.

  • Glen Boyd

    Point taken Guppus, Pico and Paul. I went to ebay to check for myself and all I can say is…outrageous. But I also have to say that Wilson should have known this would probably happen.

    Thanks for the comments and for pointing this out.


  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Pico definitely has a point but I don’t know how any one artist can stop that from happening. But, I think Mr. Wilson is correct in not releasing anymore of those Special Edition CDs. That way they stay “Limited”.

    I probably shouldn’t have said the nasty things about those “ebayers” – If they can get the money for that item then good for them. I say if you hold out long enough, the need might dissipate after the retail version comes out & you might be able to score one at a decent price.

  • mia

    If steve is pissed because of the big demand for his music (hence ebay prices)then he has nobody but himself to blame.

    Release more and stop being pretentious steve – you are guilty of the very thing that you protest.

  • Tom Johnson

    It’s an incredible piece of work and I’m only pissed about the possible re-release because he sold this with the intention of it being a limited edition, and with it being a limited edition, there is the possibility of some of the material never, ever being available again. If he goes back on his word and opts to re-press it, especially if he decides to offer a lower-priced model (not that this is something mentioned, I’m just throwing it out there,) I’m going to be furious. I bought this purely for the music that was there and because I wanted to support him rather than simply grab the files off filesharing sites, which I easily could have. I think some of his outrage to this is more than a bit manufactured – he KNOWS that he has a ravenous fanbase who will sell out his limited editions. This happened with Porcupine Tree’s Fear Of A Blank Planet special edition, too – it’s not like this is the first time he has dealt with special products. I’m certain he knew this was going to sell out in days like it did and that a good number would go straight to Ebay. Who would expect otherwise? Everything else he has done has had the same thing happen.

  • Glen Boyd

    Get ready to be pissed then Tom. From what I’ve heard, the commercial release includes the film, some sort of booklet, as well as most of the album and the DVD enhanced audio….


  • David Argabright

    Nice review! It’s a wonderful album. Believe it or not, I read the review in today’s Wall Street Journal and downloaded it immediately on iTunes.

    I can’t stop listening to it; even my kids (pretty sophisticated musically, thank Guitar Hero) love it!

    Now I wish I had bought the DVDA version for the BOSE 5.1 surround sound system in the STS…

  • Glen Boyd

    David, Are you saying you read THIS review in the Wall Street Journal? Because if so, thats news to me. Do you know what the issue date was? I’d really like to know…thanks again.


  • Glen Boyd

    Okay I checked WSJ online and its not my review. Wow, you really had me going there for a minute though David….