Welcome To My DNA, the third album in the on and off collaboration between Steven Wilson and Israeli singer/songwriter Aviv Geffen known as Blackfield, is a bit different from its two predecessors.
Wilson is of course, much better known to music fans in the western hemisphere as the creative mastermind behind modern progressive giants Porcupine Tree, and as the successful producer of such projects as the ongoing remastering of King Crimson’s back catalog. Geffen — although far less known in this part of the world — is a huge pop star in his own right in his native Israel (where he is known as much for his outspoken political views, as he is for his music).
Coming from my own perspective as an admittedly diehard fan of Wilson’s work with Porcupine Tree, Blackfield’s albums have always represented a refreshing, if slightly more introspective and melancholic departure from his heavier records with PT. Aviv Geffen’s role, to me at least, has always seemed to be more like a foil to Wilson, and a damned good one too — especially on songs like “Epidemic” and “Christenings” from Blackfield II.
This new album, on the other hand, is going to take some getting used to.
Geffen’s presence on Welcome To My DNA is a lot more front and center for one thing. There’s no more playing Andrew Ridgely to Steven Wilson’s George Michael here. The music is also much lusher sounding (thanks to Wilson’s densest production yet on a Blackfield album).
In fairness to Geffen (and again coming from my own somewhat admitted bias coming in as a Wilson fan), he largely rises to the challenge. Taking a much greater share of the lead vocals here (and from what I can tell, the songwriting as well), Geffen has lost most (but not all) of the distracting Israeli accent of past songs like “Epidemic.” The new songs are mostly pretty strong too.
My lone complaint — and it’s a relatively minor one — is that the mildly melancholic pop of previous Blackfield albums gives way to outright pessimism here, especially on darker songs like “Go To Hell” and the apocalyptic “Oxygen.” The latter takes place in a world where “there’s no oxygen left on our planet” and “everyone’s sleeping with guns, someone’s going to die.”
Hey, I’m all for going green too. But can you say downer, dude?
But in the midst of all the gloom and doom, there are still some glistening modern alternative pop tracks to be found between the cracks. The first single from the album, “Waving” is a particularly good example. Steven Wilson is back up front on vocals and guitar for one thing. And despite the presence of some occasionally distracting strings, Wilson’s ear for a pop hook remains as strong as ever (I’m assuming Wilson wrote this one).
Wilson’s influence also comes through on tracks like “Blood” (the albums heaviest track, it plays almost like an outtake from PT’s The Incident). The opening track, “Glass House,” is another standout with a Steven Wilson lead vocal, and a string arrangement that manages the trick of being both subtle and lush at the same time.
Welcome To My DNA is Blackfield’s most pronounced walk through the minefield of darkness and light yet. I suspect it will be growing on me for quite awhile.