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.