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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Steven Wilson Insurgentes

A Drop of the Dark Stuff...
Steven Wilson

There was a time that when you started getting into a band all you had to do was buy the current album and then work your way through the back catalogue. Depending on the artist, this was usually only a couple of records at best. Anyone getting into the Steven Wilson via his first solo album will have their work out for them.

Just counting up his musical adventures via Porcupine Tree’s cinematic prog-tinged anthems or No-Man’s late night post-rock introspection are enough to make a pair of horny rabbits seem like models of celibacy.

And that’s before we start adding up the myriad side-projects bearing his name,influence and production skills. Given the extent of this musical hyperactivity one wonders how Wilson would found the time to record a solo album in the first place.

Sitting somewhere between the dramatic grandeur of Porcupine Tree and No-Man’s alone-in-a-crowd existentialism, Insurgentes, is a journey through extremes of emotions and experience.

Wilson’s sure-handed control the horizontal and the vertical propels us from diaphanous dream-states to being bull-dozed into intensely claustrophobic spaces sometimes, as in the case of Harmony Korine, during the course of one song.

Other moments of aural fireworks include a dazzling solo from guitarist Mike Outram (recently heard to similarly great effect on Theo Travis’ Double Talk), stirring orchestral arrangements with Canterbury Scene legend, Dave Stewart, and King Crimson's Tony Levin's sweet bass work.

Wilson’s favourite lyrical themes concerning individual dislocation and fragmented isolation are well to the fore and are frequently matched by his instrumental choices.

The terminal gravity of distorted guitars on Get All You Deserve compresses everything underneath to the point where Gavin Harrison’s titanic drumming is reduced to little more than persistent spikes of white noise.

Yet for all the bleakness running through much of the music, it surprisingly avoids being oppressive or maudlin. Wilson’s alchemical knack of transforming the dark stuff of life into something transcendent and hopeful is surely one of the key attractions for his ever-growing growing fan-base.

The moving appearance of Michiyo Yagi’s 17-string bass koto on the title track, whilst having a ritual solemnity about it, also becomes one of the records truly uplifting moments allowing just enough light to peep into Insugentes’ shuttered room.

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