Sunday, February 12, 2012

Steven Wilson - Grace For Drowning

Steven Wilson
Grace For Drowning
Kscope Music

Steven Wilson really is a relentless workaholic. No sooner had he released his debut solo effort ‘Insurgentes’ in 2008, Wilson threw himself into another Porcupine Tree album (2009’s double C.D. ‘The Incident’) and a new Blackfield release (2011’s ‘Welcome To My DNA’), as well as serving as both a producer and a mixer for Opeth (2011’s ‘Heritage’), Anathema (2010’s ‘We’re Here Because We’re Here’) and Orphaned Land (2010’s ‘The Never Ending Way Of ORWarriOR’). Outside of those projects, Wilson also found time to work with Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt in Storm Corrosion (Whose debut album will soon see the light of day), as well as remixing albums for Jethro Tull and King Crimson. But somewhere in amongst his incredibly busy schedule, Wilson has managed to allocate some time out for himself, and complete work on his highly anticipated second solo effort ‘Grace For Drowning’, which he described prior to its release as an album that takes the listener on a journey in sound beyond anything heard previously on ‘Insurgentes’.
Split into two halves (Hence the reason for the two discs); Wilson starts off the audio journey with the first disc ‘Deform To Form A Star’, which is opened up by the short title track ‘Grace For Drowning’. Working more as an introductory piece, this track features a simple piano melody (Played by Dream Theater keyboardist Jordan Rudess) and a multi-layered vocal choir from Wilson, which combined eases the listener into the album in a soothing and dream-like manner.
The follow-up instrumental track ‘Sectarian’ is a completely different piece to that of the opener, with the first half sounding a bit like Porcupine Tree at their most progressive in terms of complex time changes and the avant-garde use of heavy keyboards and saxophone, while the second half drifts towards jazz territory with its off beat drums, keyboards and clarinet, but still retaining a progressive edge with its ominous overlapped keyboard sounds.
The title track of the first disc ‘Deform To Form A Star’ is a stunning ballad-like effort from Wilson that really stands out, and will appeal to those who favour Wilson’s lush vocal melodies and beautiful vocal harmonies (Rudess’ understated piano work and Wilson’s incredible guitar work are also noteworthy), while ‘No Part Of Me’ projects a haunting and emotional pained Blackfield/No-Man vibe on its first half, before twisting into a heavier and more technically challenged progressive workout (With the help of King Crimson guitarist/bassist Trey Gunn and drummer Pat Mastelotto).
Much like ‘Deform To Form A Star’, ‘Postcard’ (The first single from the album) is another stunning melancholy effort from Wilson, and another of the first disc’s stand out tracks with its powerful use of strings (London Session Orchestra) and choir (Synergy Vocals) arranged by Dave Stewart.
Things take a turn into darker territory with the short and haunting instrumental piece ‘Raider Prelude’ (Which again features Synergy Vocals), which serves as a precursor to the equally darker and eerie closer ‘Remainder The Black Dog’, which in itself is one of the album’s more challenging and chaotic pieces with its avant-garde use of saxophones, flutes and clarinet (Courtesy of long-time Wilson collaborator Theo Travis) and some fusion guitar work from the unmistakable Steve Hackett.
Disc two (Which is entitled ‘Like Dust I Have Cleared From My Eye’) is introduced via the short acoustic/strings based instrumental piece ‘Belle De Jour’, which eventually bleeds into ‘Index’. The lyrical content of ‘Index’ brings to mind the isolation and alienation of Porcupine Tree’s ‘Fear Of A Blank Planet’, and musically isn’t that far removed with its slow build and ambient/chilled tones, while ‘Track One’ is a true masterpiece in term of creating what starts out as a melodic and easygoing track into something that contorts into one of pure menace and impending terror with its outstanding use of the Mellotron. This song is without a doubt a work of pure genius.
The twenty-three minute plus ‘Raider II’ is the big epic piece on the album, and the one track on the album that’s hard to pin down due to its continual shifts in moods and instrumentation. What can be said however is that almost every aspect of every track featured elsewhere on the album is featured in this track, with elements of free jazz, avant-garde progressive rock, pop and moody soundscapes. Although interesting, this track is Wilson at his most self-indulgent, and can at times test the patience of any listener if they’re not in the right frame of mind. Having said that, if you’re a fan of the free-form jamming efforts that typified some of Porcupine Tree’s earlier works (In particular their 2001 album ‘Metanoia’), you’ll enjoy every aspect of ‘Raider II’ in its entirety. ‘Raider II’ is not necessarily a bad track, but one that does take patience to digest, and time to fully appreciate.
Finishing up the album is the second disc’s title track ‘Like Dust I Have Cleared From My Eye’, which is by far one of the album’s simpler constructed and written efforts (The instrumental aspect is at its bare minimum, with Wilson’s vocals and melodies essentially carrying the song), which makes it the perfect closer for the album.
While ‘Insurgentes’ is officially Wilson’s debut solo effort, traces of his various side projects (Porcupine Tree, No-Man and Blackfield) still dominated over any real risk of baring his own path musically. But with ‘Grace For Drowning’, Wilson has abandoned his inhibitions and ventured boldly into true solo territory with an album that is both daring and familiar, and yet artistically something quite unique and different from what we would normally expect from Wilson.
On ‘Grace For Drowning’, Wilson doesn’t play it safe, and has instead risked all his artistic integrity with an album that takes more than a singular listen to understand, comprehend and ultimately appreciate. And quite simply, it’s a risk that’s paid off.
It’s a shame that more albums like this aren’t made more often these days.

For more information on Steven Wilson, check out - http://www.swhq.co.uk/

© Justin Donnelly